Google: So Clever, So So Clever

February 6, 2023

I read a good summary of the US and state governments’ allegations about the behavior of the Google ad machine. I recommend “How Google Manipulated Digital Ad Prices and Hurt Publishers, Per DOJ.” The write up provides some useful insight into how the Google management environment has created a culture of being really cute, possibly really clever. The methods employed reminded me of a group of high school science club members pranking the hapless administration of a secondary school. Fun and being able to be smarter than everyone else is the name of the game.

Let me cite one example from the write up because it is short, to the point, and leaves little room for a statement like, “Senator, I did not know how the system’s components worked. I will provide the information you need. Again, I am sorry.” Does that line sound familiar? I left out the “Senator, thank you for the question” but otherwise the sentiment seems in tune with the song some companies sing to semi-aware elected officials.

Google Ads allegedly submitted two bid prices, unbeknownst to advertisers and publishers, effectively controlling the winning bids and the price floors. To entrench its market power even further, the suit argues Google started manipulating ad prices under a different method, which it dubbed “Bernanke.” Starting in 2013, according to the suit, Google Ads would submit bid prices to AdX above the amount advertisers had budgeted, in order to win high-value impressions for a group of publishers — the ones most likely to switch ad tech platforms. This insight could only be obtained by leveraging data in Google’s own publisher ad server. Once AdX cleared the bids, Google Ads would offset the losses by charging higher fees to other publishers less likely to switch ad tech providers. This scheme allegedly helped Google lock in key publishers away from other ad exchanges and ad buying tools, all while maintaining its profits at the expense of other smaller publishers.

Once of the best jobs I had in my life was my stint at the Courier-Journal & Louisville Times Co. That newspaper, like many others, has been unable to cope with the digital revolution. Outfits like Google and their clever methods may have hastened the financial precipice on which many publishers teeter.

My concern is that this particular method — just one of many I assume — has been grinding out cash for the Google for about a decade. Now there is some action, but I think the far more important challenge Google faces will be the active consumer uptake of newer options. These may prove to be familiar with Clever Avenue.

I hope these AI-informed travelers take the road called Ethical Behavior Boulevard.

Stephen E Arnold, February 6, 2023


One Response to “Google: So Clever, So So Clever”

  1. Aiden Lee on February 14th, 2023 4:13 am

    You are so creative and imaginative.

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