Warren urges federal watchdog to investigate Google over advertising ‘manipulation’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), one of the first and most outspoken advocates for breaking up Silicon Valley giants, is calling for a federal watchdog group to investigate Google over allegations of abusive manipulations of the online ad market.

Warren wrote to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) urging the investigation into Google over allegations of the company’s secret program that allegedly gave its own advertising an edge over rivals by gathering bid data through its ad exchange. The allegations surrounding the program, known as “Project Bernanke,” were reported earlier this year based on court documents in a Texas-led antitrust case. 

“Given the power of a company like Google to unilaterally manipulate the online advertising market, it is critical that the CFTC ensures these new digital commodities are traded fairly and without harmful manipulation,” Warren wrote, according to a copy of the letter shared by her office on Wednesday. 

Warren’s letter was first reported by The Washington Post. 

It stems from a report published by The Wall Street Journal in April about Project Bernanke. The Journal’s report was from documents filed in the Texas-led antitrust lawsuit that were not properly redacted when uploaded to the public docket, and a judge later let Google refile under seal. 

The project wasn’t disclosed to publishers who sold ads through Google’s ad-buying systems, and it generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for Google annually, the Journal reported based on the documents. Texas reportedly alleges the project gave Google an unfair advantage over its rivals. 

A Google spokesperson pushed back on the allegations and any need for an investigation. 

“Senator Warren’s letter relies on [Texas Attorney General] Ken Paxton’s mischaracterization of one of many improvements Google Ads has made to optimize advertiser bids. This was entirely implemented by Google Ads for buyers, using the kinds of data and strategies that are available to any buyer participating in an Ad Exchange auction,” the spokesperson said in a statement. 

“Like many other businesses in this highly competitive field, we constantly work to improve our products and compete more effectively. That’s the kind of behavior that increases competition and makes ads more effective for businesses large and small.”  

Warren, however, said in her letter that the allegations in the reported court documents call for additional investigation from the CFTC even as state and federal regulators investigate Google over potentially anticompetitive behavior. 

“The activity raises additional concerns that I believe may be within the CFTC’s jurisdiction and warrant close scrutiny,” she wrote. 

A spokesperson for the CFTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Warren’s push to involve the CFTC comes as Google faces scrutiny on many fronts. 

In addition to the Texas-led effort that focuses on allegations of Google stifling competition in the advertising technology market, the company is facing challenges from the Department of Justice and state attorneys general on its search market power. 

Google has pushed back on allegations of anticompetitive behavior. 

The Silicon Valley giant is not alone in its legal and regulatory battles. 

Facebook is facing a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), although the case faced a major setback this week after a federal judge dismissed the regulatory agency’s complaint arguing it provided insufficient evidence to prove that Facebook controls more than 60 percent of the market share. The FTC has until the end of July to file an amended complaint. 

Facebook and Google are among the companies targeted in a set of six bills that aim to revamp antitrust laws that passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. The bills are headed to a full floor vote, without a date set in place, but face a rough road ahead with opposition on both sides of the aisle — largely from the California delegation.

Tags Elizabeth Warren Google online advertising

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video