Google Accidentally Reveals Secret Project to Rig Advertising Auctions

Publishers never told of “Project Bernanke” exposed in Texas anti-trust case

In a story that broke quietly this past week, Google reportedly ran a secret project to rig advertising auctions in their favor — basically stealing money from publishers. The company used its access to data from publishers’ ad servers “where more than 90% of large publishers use Google to sell their digital ad space—to guide advertisers toward the price they would have to bid to secure an ad placement.”

Google projected that they would earn $230m in 2013 alone from the secret project, and presumably has ever since, even while news publishers large and small struggle to stay afloat in a pandemic that has exacerbated pressure on their businesses – including reduced investment in technology, cuts to workforce, minimizing print production, and decreasing coverage.

The exposure also shows how damaging Google’s control over the advertising market is.  To maximize revenue, publishers have to work with Google – on Google’s terms – leaving them with few competitive options and journalists vulnerable to layoffs and reduced funding.  

The following is a statement from Laura Bassett, former Senior Politics Reporter for HuffPost who was laid off in January 2019, and co-founder of the Save Journalism Project:

Google can run a secret auction-rigging scheme because they’re able run closed advertising systems with no real competition.  It’s killing the news business.  Publishers need more access and control if they’re ever going to be able to keep journalists employed and quality journalism affordable and accessible. The only way to protect these publications is by having a financial model that works for the industry. Google will always stand in the way of that financial model. What we need now is aggressive action like this antitrust lawsuit in Texas to put an end to this manipulative company from taking over the news industry.