The UK news publisher that owns the Daily Mail news organization filed a lawsuit against Google accusing it of abusing monopoly control of search to punish websites as part of a scheme to maintain control over Internet advertising markets.
The majority of the lawsuit documentation is concerned with Google’s domination of Internet advertising.
It portrays the Daily Mail as a victim that is powerless to control its advertising business and is forced to submit to diminishing revenue because of what the Daily Mail alleges is monopoly dominance by Google.
The court filing states:
“News publishers do not see the growing ad spending because Google and its parent Alphabet unlawfully have acquired and maintain monopolies for the tools that publishers and advertisers use to buy and sell online ad space.
Those tools include the software publishers use to sell their ad inventory, and the dominant exchange where millions of ad impressions are sold in auctions every day.
Google controls the “shelf space” on publishers’ pages where ads appear, and it exploits that control to defeat competition for that ad space.
Among other tactics, Google makes it difficult for publishers to compare prices among exchanges; reduces the number of exchanges that can submit bids; and uses bids offered by rival exchanges to set its own bids — a de facto bid rigging scheme.”
AMP is a Scheme to Control Online Advertising?
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an open source web standard for delivering web pages that are highly optimized for mobile devices.
Competitors to Google, like Microsoft’s search engine Bing, have been a part of the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) open source movement. For example, Bing announced in 2016 that they would deliver AMP formatted web pages in their Bing APP.
In 2018 Bing announced the rollout of their AMP News Carousel, also stating their intention to provide AMP pages in their search results as well.
The stated goals for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is to provide a better user experience for users on mobile devices.
The stated mission for AMP is:
“Provide a user-first format for web content, supporting the long-term success of every web publisher, merchant, and advertiser.”
The purpose of the open source AMP project is well documented and embraced by a wide range of competing companies.
The Daily Mail lawsuit however makes the startling claim that AMP is part of a scheme by Google to dominate and control online advertising.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that AMP created a situation that locked out competing ad services. But that claim about AMP is undermined by it’s own admission that this was the case only “initially.”
The lawsuit begins by first misrepresenting Accelerated Mobile Pages as degrading the user experience of visitors using mobile devices.
The lawsuit states:
Instead, AMP limits a publisher’s expressive creativity and degrades the user experience. AMP pages are not compatible with infographics and other interactive features, resulting in less user engagement.”
After misrepresenting AMP as providing a degraded user experience to users, the Daily Mail next implies that the benefit of AMP was to Google at the expense of publishers.
“The most immediate competitive significance of Google’s banning third-party script is that AMP pages are incompatible with client-side header bidding.
The result was, initially, that only AdX could bid in real time for Daily Mail’s inventory.
Daily Mail had no recourse, though, because it had to adopt AMP lest it lose critical search traffic. That left Daily Mail with two bad options: (1) forgo AMP and lose search traffic, or (2) adopt AMP, reject client-side header bidding, and sell effectively all AMP ad space through AdX at reduced prices.”
Claims Google Punishes Websites with Organic Search
Perhaps the most startling claim, with no proof, is that Google uses their search results algorithm as a weapon with which to punish publishers who try to get out from under Google’s alleged monopoly dominance.
The Daily Mail states how “monopoly” in search makes the search results a weapon for dishing out punishment:.
“Google’s mobile search monopoly gives Google power — Google can punish publishers with its search results because losing traffic from Google users significantly harms their business.”
The Daily Mail next correlates unrelated events in its struggle to monetize its website with the rollout of an updated Google search algorithm, called a Core Algorithm Update.
Claims Google Core Updates Linked to Advertising Competition
The Daily Mail wrote:
“Google repeatedly told Daily Mail there were no issues with the search algorithm. Google also assured Daily Mail that it was not being targeted among its peers. But that was simply untrue. Google was indeed targeting certain publishers: those that made AdX compete more vigorously for impressions.”
Google’s core algorithm updates affect a wide range of publishers, including many who don’t use AMP nor have a squabble with Google about ad inventory.
The Daily Mail double-downed on that correlation:
“Google repeatedly complained to Daily Mail about its flooring strategy, but Daily Mail explained (in great detail) that flooring Google led to higher revenue.
…Unable to convince Daily Mail, Google punished it instead. With the June 2019 Core Algorithm Update, Google shut off Daily Mail’s search traffic one week before it began enforcing UPR across publishers’ inventory, and it restored search traffic precisely one day after UPR was fully effective.
The result of UPR, as discussed, was that AdX could intermediate a greater share of Daily Mail’s inventory at much lower prices. Thus, Google punished Daily Mail on its search results because Daily Mail’s pages were less profitable to Google than other websites.
Google then restored search traffic once UPR eliminated differential price floors and forced Daily Mail to sell more inventory to Google on the cheap.”
The Daily Mail did not produce any internal documents from Google or statements from Googlers that link Core Algorithm Updates to punishing squabbling publishers.
Search Industry Reaction
The general tone of reactions ranged from disbelief at the audacity to link search results to advertising to outright mockery of the claims.
Search marketers tweeted:
Have they looked at their own website? I want to sue Google for letting them keep half their traffic.
— Ian Lurie (@IanLurie) April 21, 2021
Marty Weintraub of Aimclear was quoted in MediaPost attributing The Daily Mail ranking woes to poor SEO.
“Well, we’d all like our (free) high organic rankings to compete with (paid) Google ads,” wrote Aimclear Founder Marty Weintraub in an email to Search & Performance Marketing Daily. “I’d like a pony too. Waaa Waaa Waaa the royals are bumming. There are a ton of good SEO firms in the UK. Either invest in SEO, buy ads, or quit whining.”
What’s Next for the Daily Mail Lawsuit?
There are many parts of the lawsuit that are similar to lawsuits filed by states like Texas against Google. However, to those in the search marketing industry, the unsubstantiated claims based on correlations between unrelated events that are used to link Google’s search algorithms to punishments against publishers may strike some as difficult to believe.