We need to stop Google manipulating the digital ad market

If you google “does Google manipulate the digital ad market,” you know what you won’t find in that crucial first page of results?

A new, blockbuster Wall Street Journal report showing that, in fact, the tech behemoth does just that. 

That’s right! Not content with having eaten the sell-side of the online ad market whole (and done major damage to the free press in the process), Google also has been screwing ad buyers: people and firms who want to reach through video ads the vast audiences it commands via YouTube. 

Hmmmmm, wonder why the story’s not front and center in search? Couldn’t be that the benevolent capitalists in Mountain View are butt-covering.  

Per the Journal report, a recent study from media firm Adalytics showed data suggesting that around 80% of the tech giant’s video ad placements on third-party sites violate the company’s own purported standards and marketing promises (though Google denies this claim). 

That is: Companies paying a huge premium to put ads on higher-quality sites, with top placement and audio on, actually ended up shunted off to lower-end sites, with bad placement and no sound. 

Google has reportedly been placing ads that companies pay to be on higher-end websites on lower-end sites instead.
Google has reportedly been placing ads that companies pay to be on higher-end websites on lower-end sites instead.
Getty Images

The buyers could simply have paid massively less for that at the start: $5 per 1,000 completed views vs. $100. 

Buy a Cadillac from Google and get a Ford Pinto, in other words. 

Note that it’s not the little guys getting screwed here: It’s mammoth outfits like American Express, Samsung and Johnson & Johnson — plus the federal government, including the US Army. 

That’s right: Google feels comfy shortchanging a global superpower’s armed forces. 

Surely it’s long past time to bring the hammer down. 

All the more so because a larger issue lurks behind the ugly nickel-and-diming. 

Google has decimated the ad market that once sustained journalism in the United States; it’s also been hoovering up and remonetizing for itself the content we create, grubbing up billions while throttling media and never paying a red cent. 

That’s why we cheered when Australia won its big battle with Big Tech to force sites to pay for the content — our content — they use to drive their traffic. 

America needs laws like that to staunch the bleeding. 

We may also need regulatory action, like the EU effort toward a break-away of Google’s ad business: That might make it harder for tech overlords to tee up screwjobs like this, not least by re-igniting competition in the market.

Given how buddy-buddy Big Tech is with Uncle Sam, don’t hold your breath on that. (So far, even efforts to get members of Congress to stop trading the tech stocks they regulate have fallen flat). 

Until the feds get smart (again, they’re allegedly getting shafted, too!), expect the bleeding and cheating to continue. 

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