back to article Google deliberately throttled ad load times to promote AMP, claims new court document

More detail has emerged from a 173-page complaint filed last week in the lawsuit brought against Google by a number of US states, including allegations that Google deliberately throttled advertisements not served to its AMP (Accelerated Mobile) pages. The lawsuit – as we explained at the end of last week – was originally filed …

  1. IGotOut Silver badge

    Here is how to really hurt google

    ... make them issue a full refund for all normal adverts served since 2015 and until this nasty bit of malware is removed from existence.

    1. Imhotep Silver badge

      Re: Here is how to really hurt google

      If any of those acts were criminal, charge the individuals involved.

      That might actually have an effect. Otherwise, Google will continue to be a bad actor.

      1. rcxb1

        Re: Here is how to really hurt google

        <blockquote>charge the individuals involved. That might actually have an effect.</blockquote>

        Absolutely. That will result in companies hiring lots of disposable managers whose job will only be to rubber-stamp the real manager/executive's (off-the record) plans, and face the criminal punishments, in exchange for a cushy salary for doing nothing.

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        Charging individuals sounds good in theory

        But how does that work in practical terms? Let's say you subpoena corporate records to find out what happened. First there's a meeting with 12 people where one of them suggested a plan similar to but not exactly like what they did, there was some discussion and others offered suggestions to "improve" it until they hashed it out and decided "we should do this", and recommended it to higher ups.

        The higher ups had a meeting with 8 people who offered further tweaks to the plan and one asked "is this ethical?" and another asked "how much trouble will we be in if we're caught?" but in the end there is sufficient agreement to send the proposal up to some VP in an email that said something like "hey Mr. Bossman we're going to do X, just wanted to give you a chance to object if you think this is the wrong path" and Mr. Bossman does not reply.

        So who do you charge? The person in the original meeting of 12 who suggested something like this? All 12 of them for being in a meeting that recommended this, even if some of the 12 never spoke a word during the meeting and the only record of their participation is being listed as "attending" in the meeting minutes? The 8 who sent it up to Mr. Bossman, or do you let the guy who asked "is this ethical?" off the hook? What about Mr. Bossman, who may or may not have even read the proposal in detail, but is definitely not on the record as having approved it?

        Responsibility tends to be very diffuse in large organizations. That's a weakness when you need to move quickly, but is a strength if you want to avoid responsibility. In an organization where the CEO is micromanaging little details it would be easier to pin something like this on him if he was on the record saying something like "well yeah we all know this is immoral, but we'll make more money so as long as we do a good job of covering it up we can laugh all the way to the bank!" It would be nice if someone could say something like this and stick out like a sore thumb, but unfortunately that's not how the real world works.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Charging individuals sounds good in theory

          "So who do you charge?"

          All of them. It was raised, discussed, added to, passed up and eventually implemented. Even those who "only" attended, but didn't speak out are complicit.

          "I was only following orders" is not an excuse.

          The courts can decide the level of culpability.

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Facepalm

    News at 10.

    Company in monopoly position abuses its position.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: News at 10.

      People saying "You don't have to use Google if you don't like it" in 3... 2... 1...

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: News at 10.

        These days Alphabet owns the Internet and Google owns the advertising industry. All of these changes were sold as "helping users" but they never mentioned it was helping usrs share their lives with Google, Remember the old "Don't be Evil" ... so now it's virtually just "Don't be REvil."

        1. rcxb1

          Re: News at 10.

          <blockquote>These days Alphabet owns the Internet</blockquote>

          I can think of a lot of other companies with a more substantial claim to owning the internet. Amazon, Netflix, Cloudflare, all the large internet service providers, etc.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: News at 10.

      Yes, but the problem is authorities tasked to avoid this no longer take any action because of the wrong doctrine applied "it doesn't harm consumers" but antitrust laws were designed to keep competition alive - and not just with consumer prices in mind. Moreover in this case the "consumers" were the companies buying ad space, not the products the ads were shown to, and they actually paid more than in a competitive market.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: News at 10.

        There are plenty of things to criticize about antitrust enforcement over the past few decades, but the consumer welfare standard isn't one of them. I say this as someone who believes Google is dangerous and that antitrust law needs to be applied to Google aggressively.(*see lawyerly disclaimer at end.)

        You're saying you want to product consumers of ad space. That's exactly what the consumer welfare standard aims to do. "Consumer" in the consumer welfare standard absolutely includes businesses. "Consumer" just means the person (and firms are persons) who purchases the product. A company buying ad space is a consumer of ad space. So, no daylight between us there. Just a matter of word choice.

        As for "keeping competition alive," that's what the consumer welfare standard aims to do.

        The consumer welfare standard looks to the effect of the conduct from the consumer's perspective. If the conduct does _not_ increase prices, reduce quality, or reduce consumer choices, then antitrust doesn't worry about that conduct. Note that the consumer welfare standard doesn't say anything about what _conduct_ is allowed. Think of it like hospital triage. If I go into a hospital covered in someone else's blood but unharmed myself, the ER won't waste doctors' time on me. (The ER will probably call the cops, but it's not the ER's job to treat me.) Similarly, antitrust law screens out cases where consumers aren't (generally/obviously/based on economics and experience) hurt.

        The historical alternative was to worry about harm to a "competitor," but that's backwards: If we protect competitors, then we protect inefficient firms, which undermines competition and ultimately harms consumers. It also gives antitrust regulators huge political power and lets the government intervene in markets in ways that you will regret (if not now, then when the political winds change).

        Example: Mom and Pop's convenience store has always sold $8 gallons of regular milk. A supermarket next door starts offering $3 gallons of regular milk or $4 gallons of organic milk. The supermarket starts an advertising campaign that compares its prices with Mom and Pop and suggests that Mom and Pop have been exploiting their neighbors for years. Mom and Pop complain that the supermarket is acting anti-competitively because Mom and Pop think they couldn't sell milk for less than $8 because they lack scale (or perhaps because have an inefficient supply chain because they've always done business with a family friend. Under the consumer welfare standard, Mom and Pop are summarily laughed out of whatever tribunal they complained to. The supermarket gives consumers more choices and lower prices => consumers win => no harm to competition or the competitive process.

        Under the alternative, antitrust regulators start picking and choosing winners based on favoritism or a notion of "fairness" that's unpredictable and capricious. They might choose to protect Mom and Pop for some reason. If you're cynical, the reason is that Mom and Pop donated a lot of money last election. If you're naive, then you believe the antitrust regulator when they justify their decision as protecting the "community" and a "local business" (though you might wonder how the regulator decides how to define those concepts).

        As a result, people in the neighborhood pay too much for milk and have fewer choices. Mom and Pop don't need to look for more efficient suppliers or think about whether they're really in the right business. Everyone loses, except for Mom and Pop, who are now committing all the sins of a monopolist (inefficient business, no incentive to adapt to the market or consumer demands, etc).

        Now, the consumer welfare standard might sound mean if you like small local businesses for some reason. But there just isn't a better way to screen out unworthy disputes. The consumer welfare standard is like representative democracy--you might not like the process, and you might dislike a lot of the outcomes, but it's the least-bad way to reach the right result most of the time, or at least over the long term.

        So, please don't pay attention to the politicians and podcasters who rail against the consumer welfare standard. Or, if you do, ask them what standard they'd use. If they can give you a semi-coherent response, then ask what about their proposed standard protects against political abuse in the future.

        (*IAAL, but these are my personal (and anonymous) ramblings, not legal advice or anything, really. As for bias or conflict of interest: I believe Google is a dangerous monopolist, and I have clients that are adverse to Google. Consumers, and my clients, win under the consumer welfare standard. Because the consumer welfare standard is right.)

        1. Snake Silver badge

          Re: anti-competitive

          The supermarket gives consumers more choices and lower prices => consumers win => no harm to competition or the competitive process.

          Not necessarily true. If the supermarket is engaged in anti-competitive practices, where they sell significantly below cost simply in order to eliminate the competition from the marketplace, then raise prices later when they have no competition, is wrong and mostly illegal.

          Just harder to prove.

          1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

            Re: anti-competitive

            Like Standard Oil, and IBM, and ...

            And with the particular example quoted, the problem is that Google isn't like the supermarket. It's like a megalith that not only runs the supermarket, but also the local radio, and local TV, and local papers - and it deliberately nobbles Mom & Pop's attempts to advertise - effectively delaying each of their ads for long enough to put their own up first.

            And of course, we've not even started to get into territory like SO and IBM. In both cases they would target a market segment in an area and actively set out to cripple competition. In SO's case it was petrol etc, in IBM's case it was (originally) cash registers (and especially independent repair/overhaul services). The standard tactic was to open up in the area and heavily discount products below the cost price of the incumbents, or offer silly trade-in prices (making the sale of a new one below cost price) for your old cash register so they can take them out of the market. The existing second hand cash register dealer goes bust because they can't get used ones to refurb, and can't sell what they do have; the incumbent petrol retailers go bust because they can't compete with SO's below cost prices. Then once the competition is gone, up go the prices (massively) to generate the profits for the next targeted campaign.

            AIUI both were well demonstrated, SO was found guilty, but IBM miraculously had the investigation dropped on a change of government - absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with their campaign funding !

            So, is the supermarket selling below cost - or just has a much better supply chain ?

  3. pip25
    Mushroom

    Thank you Google

    For destroying whatever little doubt I had left for surfing the web with ads and JS blocked by default. Making your ads slower ON PURPOSE goes a tiny bit beyond simple, garden-variety evil.

    1. Craig 2

      Re: Thank you Google

      Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely...

      No doubt Google have close to the definition of absolute control of the web most people see. (In the western world anyway) I also don't doubt there are thousands of tweaks in every piece of code that promotes to their own benefit and demotes the competition. We just get to hear about the most egregious ones...

  4. Flak

    Who would've thunk it?

    While still 'alleged' behaviour, this would not surprise at all.

    Just watching 'Billion Dollar Code' and I am quite sure that all of these shenanigans are not isolated incidents or accidental, but deliberately anticompetitive and cold-hearted capitalist in nature. I don't mind capitalism per se, but the ugly excesses it sometimes drives.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Who would've thunk it?

      and cold-hearted capitalist in nature.

      Capitalism is about equal opportunity. What Google does is very much the opposite and is against the spirit of capitalism.

      1. hairydog

        Re: Who would've thunk it?

        Capitalism has never been about equal opportunity.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          "Capitalism has never been about equal opportunity"

          Equal opportunities. Not equal outcomes and leveling....

          1. Sierpinski
            Meh

            Re: "Capitalism has never been about equal opportunity"

            The "e" in "optimizing for profit" stands for "equal opportunity".

            1. sofaspud

              Re: "Capitalism has never been about equal opportunity"

              I see what you didn't do there.

      2. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: Capitalism is about equal opportunity.

        No, not in the slightest. It's about keeping the wealth with the wealthy. You can argue about it as much as you like but the facts speak for themselves. Who made loads of cash out of the misery that was the pandemic? And who put the effort in to keep us going and got offered a 1% pay rise?

        Spend some time on planet earth.

  5. katrinab Silver badge
    Flame

    So that would by why pi-hole increases loading speed so dramatically.

    1. Martin-R

      If only it would block AMP as well :-(

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        I would imagine

        It wouldn't be that hard to write a browser extension to remove /amp/ from links?

  6. KBeee Silver badge
    Facepalm

    One of my (many) faults

    I know it's wrong of me to prejudge anything, but whenever I see an El Reg headline with the words "Google" or "Facebook" or a couple of other companies in there, I immediately think to myself

    "What shit have they been up to now?"

    1. My-Handle Silver badge

      Re: One of my (many) faults

      I know it's wrong of me to prejudge anything, but whenever I see an El Reg headline with the words "Google" or "Facebook" or a couple of other companies in there, I immediately think to myself

      "What shit have they been up to now?"

      FTFY

  7. JacobZ

    Wait...

    I'm not sure that "ads load faster" is the killer benefit that Google seems to think it is.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Wait...

      Depends if "ads load slower" causes noticeable browsing slow-down for end victims.

  8. VicMortimer
    FAIL

    What do I care if they slowed ads that I block anyway?

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      It probably depends on the way your browser's render works. The browser may need various files before it can make a start at displaying the page.

    2. sabroni Silver badge
      WTF?

      re: What do I care

      Dunno, I think it's to do with "other people" or something......

  9. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    If it quacks like a duck...

    Seems a lot like an illegal cabal to me.

  10. martinusher Silver badge

    Much ado about nothing

    Everyone's ignoring the elephant in the room because it apparently needs to be there so the entire Internet ecosystem is maintained. Ultimately it comes down to an enormous amount of money and intellectual effort being spent to serve advertisements for products and services that I'm just not interested in. Obviously the people involved in all this churning will bombard you with reams of data to show just how effective their work is -- their jobs are on the line, after all -- but, honestly, I've yet to come across advertisements that introduce any product to me that I'm not already aware of.

    1. Dinanziame Silver badge

      Re: Much ado about nothing

      honestly, I've yet to come across advertisements that introduce any product to me that I'm not already aware of.

      Even if you know the product already, you might think of it more often afterwards. Advertising does not need you to be aware of its effect for it to be effective.

      I mean, everybody knows the iPhone exists, but I'm sure Apple has a good reason for renting huge billboards advertising it.

    2. rcxb1

      Re: Much ado about nothing

      Hey everybody, ads don't work for Martin Usher! So stop it!

  11. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Holmes

    It's better on Google

    Too much spam on Usenet? You won't see it with the superior filtering on Google Groups. (99.99% of Usenet spam is from crime gangs using Google Groups)

    Too much spam in your e-mail? You won't see it with the superior filtering on Google Gmail. (90% of email spam is from or returning to Gmail accounts)

    Ads too slow? It's faster if Google hosts your content with AMP. (Google is jamming ad system outside of AMP)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Adverts you say

    How quaint *

    * el Reg excepted via whitelist

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Share the spoils

    > The suit alleges that AMP limited the compatibility with header bidding to just "a few exchanges," and "routed rival exchange bids through Google's ad server so that Google could continue to peek at their bids and trade on inside information".

    Surely the bids were at least encrypted with HTTPS - so how could they be peeked at?

    So the plaintiffs are hoping that if they throw mud at a wall then if even if slides off it will leave a mark?

    The Ad industry is rotten to the core. This is not about user interests. It's about sharing the ability to exploit users privacy with a wider range of crooks - and a lot crooked politicians too.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Ad industry is rotten to the core.

      Aww, is that the best defence you could raise for your beloved mega-corporation?

  14. Bodestone

    So often I have had pages not een load due to timrout to the midclicj ad server, I never see the add but every google search link goes through an ad server we never see

  15. Matthew "The Worst Writer on the Internet" Saroff

    If You Favor the Consumer Welfare Theory of Antitrust

    1 second, x 10 million ads throttled a day x $7.25 minimum wage is Google stealing more than $20,000 a day from consumers.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not the same but

    just like the document given to our local councillors many years ago to show "Google is cheaper than going to Azure and Office 365". It wasn't. It ignored that we got a discount from Microsoft (would get one from Google as well) due to being local government. But even though both got a discount, Microsoft was still cheaper but this was hidden from the councillors so they'd all choose Google. It also ignore that Microsoft were willing to drop the migration fee where as Google charged roughly 20k

    They appear bent in all walks of life.

  17. idiot taxpayer here again

    Probably the most stupid question ever

    Read title.

    I know nowt about designing chips, but this Google designed chip... Would it be possible for them to plant some sort of data harvesting software in the thing? Assuming it is a cpu of some sort, it would have access to everything on the device wouldn't it?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Down vote me if you must ...

    I'm one of those who still uses Google Adsense on some sites and Google has been regularly pestering me about speeding up my web pages - including using AMP.

    If I don't have Adsense on a site, it will load in under 0.2 seconds (0.7 if I try in some backwater, like Australia). Putting in Adsense ups the load time by around 2 seconds. The speed problem isn't my site - it's Google.

    When they were urging me to deploy AMP, my investigation indicated that it would do nothing for me - aside from handing more control over to Google.

    Why haven't I dropped Adsense? I (suspect) they are more likely to "promote" your content if you run Google ads. Whereas, if you you don't, they don't seem to have an incentive to to bring your content to the top of their listings. And why should they, their business model incentivizes them prioritizing the opportunity to get a fraction of a penny from a page rather than getting nothing from a page. Not to mention the loss of tracking data if they direct you to a site without Google's tentacles in it.

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