Google Must Face $17 Billion Adtech Lawsuit, Tribunal Rules

Alphabet has been handed a setback in the UK over its alleged domination of the online advertising market, after a ruling by the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT).

The CAT had in October 2023 consolidated the £3.4 billion case of former Guardian technology editor Charles Arthur, and the £13.6 billion case of former Ofcom director Claudio Pollack – both of whom alleged Google’s dominance of the adtech industry had illegally reduced publishers’ income from ad revenues.

The Competition Appeal Tribunal’s case stated that the “claims by Ad Tech Collective Action LLP are for loss and damage allegedly caused by the Proposed Defendants’ breach of statutory duty by their infringement of section 18 of the Competition Act 1998 and Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.”

Image credit: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

CAT ruling

It said the “PCR seeks to recover damages to compensate UK-domiciled publishers and publisher partners, for alleged harm in the form of lower revenues caused by the Proposed Defendants’ conduct in the ad tech sector.”

PCR stands for Proposed Class Representative’s.

Now the Tribunal has found that the “Claim Form is properly pleaded, and sets out a case that is arguable within the Merricks test. The PCR’s counterfactual case is sufficiently pleaded for Google to know the case it has to meet.”

“The PCR has, through the report of its expert economist, demonstrated that the averments in the Claim Form are triable and that the harm to the Proposed Class and the loss and damage suffered by it can be quantified,” the ruling stated.

Essentially this means that Alphabet must face a lawsuit worth up to 13.6 billion pounds ($17.4 billion) from UK publishers (aka Ad Tech Collective Action LLP), for allegedly abusing its dominance of the online advertising market.

Incoherent case?

Reuters reported that Google had last month urged the CAT to block the case, which it argued was incoherent.

The company “strongly rejects the underlying allegations”, its lawyers reportedly said in court documents.

But this is likely to be a very lengthy case, as a trial is unlikely to take place before the end of 2025.

Other cases

Alphabet is facing a number of other legal challenges over its online advertising position, with the UK Competition and Markets Authority and the European Commission also investigating it over the same matter.

Another lawsuit filed in February 2024 by European media firms Axel Springer, Schibsted and 30 others.

Last year the largest newspaper publisher in the United States Gannett filed a lawsuit against Alphabet and alleged “monopolisation of advertising technology markets and deceptive commercial practices.”

In January 2023 US Justice Department (DoJ) “along with the Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia, filed a civil antitrust suit against Google for monopolising multiple digital advertising technology products in violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act.”

In April 2024 Google had asked a Virginia federal court to reject that lawsuit over alleged anticompetitive conduct in the advertising technology business.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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