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Meta and Google Face Joint EU-UK Investigation Over Online Ads Pact

The investigation will look into how the two companies may have worked together to exclude competitors.

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Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read
Facebook and Google app icons on phone screen

Meta and Google's deal is under scrutiny.

Denis Charlet/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook parent company Meta and fellow  tech giant Google are under scrutiny in Europe yet again. The EU and UK on Friday launched a parallel investigation into the companies, which will look into concerns that together they hampered competition for online ad space.

In September 2018, the companies struck an agreement with the codename "Jedi Blue," which allows Meta to compete in Google's Open Bidding Program for online ad space. Now the UK's Competition and Markets Authority and the EU's Competition Commission are concerned that the agreement may form part of a plan to prevent other ad tech services competing with Google.

"Via the so-called 'Jedi Blue' agreement between Google and Meta, a competing technology to Google's Open Bidding may have been targeted with the aim to weaken it and exclude it from the market for displaying ads on publisher websites and apps," said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in a statement. "If confirmed by our investigation, this would restrict and distort competition in the already concentrated ad tech market, to the detriment of rival ad serving technologies, publishers and ultimately consumers."

This isn't the first time the EU and UK have worked together to investigate US tech giants since the UK left the EU in January 2020. Last June, the two regulators announced a separate parallel investigation into Meta to see if the company was using data gathered from advertisers to directly compete with them. 

Following the separation of the two powers, the CMA is in the process of setting up its own Digital Markets Unit to regulate big tech and the online ad space. But it has said that it will not shy away from pursuing investigations while it awaits its new powers and resources. The EU, meanwhile, has many years of experience regulating the tech industry. The two authorities will closely cooperate as they conduct the Jedi Blue inquiry.

"Meta's non-exclusive bidding agreement with Google and the similar agreements we have with other bidding platforms, have helped to increase competition for ad placements," said a Meta spokeswoman in a statement. "These business relationships enable Meta to deliver more value to advertisers and publishers, resulting in better outcomes for all. We will cooperate with both inquiries."

Google didn't immediately respond to request for comment.