Google faces second multi-billion pound ad tech lawsuit in UK

A technology journalist represented by Hausfeld is seeking £3.4 billion from Google on behalf of over 200,000 news publishers that were allegedly harmed by the company favouring its own advertising technology services.

In a statement today, Hausfeld said it has filed the opt-out collective claim in the UK’s Competition Appeal Tribunal on behalf of proposed class representative Charles Arthur.

Google holds a dominant position in the UK market for online display advertising, which has allowed it to hinder rivals’ ability to compete and raised prices for ad tech services across the entire sector, the firm said.

Arthur said there is a very real danger that the kind of innovation that made it possible for Google to grow “will be lost as the current system stifles new talent, new entrepreneurs and new ways of working”. 

However, the lawsuit could face competition from a parallel class action that Humphries Kerstetter filed against Google in November on behalf of Claudio Pollack, a former director at UK communications regulator Ofcom. That claim is seeking up to £13.6 billion in compensation and also alleges that the company abused its dominant position in the market for online advertising. 

Arthur said it is not possible to comment on the overlap between the two claims because only limited details exist about Pollack’s case.

Unless the class representatives agree to combine their claims, the CAT will have to determine the most appropriate suit to proceed to certification in what is known as a carriage dispute.

Display ads are sold by website and app publishers through intermediaries such as Google. Several tech services are involved in these sales – including publisher ad servers, which help publishers connect with a supply-side intermediary to fill ad space.

Supply-side intermediaries are also referred to as ad exchanges, which help publisher ad servers elicit bids and run auctions for ad space when a user visits a page. On the other side of the market, advertisers use platforms to support bidding strategies and budgeting.

Arthur’s claim notes Google’s presence at all levels of the ad tech chain. Its DoubleClick for Publishers business is active in the publisher ad server market, while the company also acts on the supply side through Google AdX, AdSense and AdMob and on the demand side through Google DV360 and Google Ads.

Arthur claims Google has made it “nearly impossible” for publishers to leave its “walled garden” without facing “financial ruin”.

“As a result, this has raised market-wide prices charged to publishers for the sale of ads, regardless of whether a publisher chooses to use Google’s intermediary service or its competitors,” he said.

The proposed class definition includes “all UK businesses and individuals who sold ad impressions on a website or app using ad tech between 1st January 2014 to date”.

Hausfeld partner Luke Streatfeild said the firm looks forward to working with Arthur to return compensation to websites and apps who have lost out, “and to help to put a stop to Google’s anticompetitive conduct in the future”.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority is already probing Google’s conduct in the online advertising market after it combined its Jedi Blue investigation with a separate online ad case earlier this month.

In a separate market study, the CMA found the company controls between 50% and 90% of the ad tech market. Elsewhere, Google agreed to pay France’s Competition Authority €220 million and change the way it organises digital advertising auctions in June 2021 to settle allegations – which it did not dispute – that it unlawfully favours its own ad tech services.

Enforcers in the EU, the US and Australia are also probing the company’s conduct in digital advertising, with the US Department of Justice going so far as to seek a divestiture of DoubleClick.

Google was contacted for comment.

Counsel to Charles Arthur


Partner Luke Streatfeild in London

Monckton Chambers 

Gerry Facenna KC, Nikolaus Grubeck and Alison Berridge in London 

One Essex Court

Greg Adey 

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