A US antitrust lawsuit exposes a scheme involving Google search, Chrome, and display ads to increase ad revenue
- US antitrust lawsuit reveals emails between Google Search, Chrome and ad executives plotting ways to increase ad revenue
- Email descriptions are planned to increase search queries on Chrome to increase ad revenue.
- Executives talk about the negative impact on Google’s stock and their personal fortunes if advertising revenue declines.
A US antitrust lawsuit against Google has uncovered emails from Google search, Chrome, and advertising executives discussing schemes to increase ad revenue.
There are two documents, one from 2019 in which senior Google executives outline plans to develop search, Chrome and advertising to increase ad revenue before the end of the quarter. At one point, he also discussed Google’s stock price and its impact on his personal wealth.
Another document, dating from 2017, acknowledges the research team’s reluctance to do anything that might negatively impact users.
Ben Gomez, Senior Vice President, Google
Among the executives who participated in the email discussion were senior executives, including Ben Gomez, whose career has spanned search, news, Google Assistant and senior vice president of education. He worked on how Google categorizes websites and was responsible for quick search and spell correction among other projects.
A PDF documenting the email discussion appears to contradict Google’s long-standing insistence that the search team is firewalled from the advertising side of the company.
But again, with the exception of Ben Gomes, it’s the senior executives who get the discussion, not the research team itself.
Find the Advertising Teams firewall team
Googlers have made many statements over the years, at search conferences and on Google Hangouts and Twitter, that the search side of Google is incompatible with the advertising side.
For example, in a Google Hangout on May 8, 2015, Google’s John Mueller explained how the search team was banned from the ads team.
The question he answered was about a rumor that Google is making SEO more difficult to make more money from ads.
“This is definitely not true.
So, this is something where we basically have a very strong firewall between the paid side of Google and the organic search side.
And it’s not something that we’re going to package in some way, where we’re going to say we’re going to create algorithms that make search results worse so that people will click on ads more.
…So, it’s something where we’re not trying to make it artificially more complicated or difficult or trying to make search results worse so that people will click on ads.
…So, on the one hand, we have a really strong disconnect between the two sides.
On the other hand, we really need to keep it clear, so we can make sure that our search results are as unbiased as possible, as high quality as possible and really deliver what users want.”
Google executives have worked closely with the Google Ads team
The 2019 email is from Google Ads CEO Jerry Dessler. It was delivered to John Maletis, a ChromeOS executive.
Also participating in the email discussion were Ben Gomes, who has worked on Google’s search algorithm since the early days, and Prabhakar Raghavan, an executive vice president who was involved in search as well as Google Ads.
Duesler, Google Ads CEO, wrote:
“The research team is working with us to accelerate the launch of a new mobile design by the end of May that will have significantly positive revenue (exact numbers are still being worked out), but it will not be enough.
Our best shot at achieving this quarter is to get at least [redacted]% of queries as quickly as possible from Chrome.
He expressed regret over the remarks, saying how disappointed everyone on the team would be if Google’s stock price fell because the advertising side wasn’t performing well.
Frankly, it’s shocking that anyone involved in Google’s algorithms worked with ChromeOS and advertising teams to artificially manipulate search queries to help meet performance goals on the advertising side for the quarter, talking about ways to increase.
As frustrating as that is, it gets worse.
Executives discuss how not meeting their revenue goals will impact their personal wealth.
“I care more about revenue than the ordinary person, but I think we can all agree that the [new] stock price and markup is not going to be great for our morale, much alone the impact on the sales team, for all of our teams attempting to remain in high-cost places.” We possess.
In the next paragraph, he boasts about Google’s “pure approach” and claims he “doesn’t want to poison any team’s culture.”
And with his next breath, he begins to intoxicate, saying:
“I don’t want the message to be, ‘We’re doing this because the ad team needs revenue.’ That’s a very negative message.
But my question to you is – based on the above – what is the best decision for Google in our opinion?
…Are there other classification methods we can flesh out faster?
Anil Sabharwal, a senior Chrome executive, responded by emphasizing the need to move forward with search ranking changes (apparently to benefit Google Ads, which is the entire email context).
He’s clearly concerned about “bad press” at the upcoming Google IO event.
“…We don’t want the bad press around IO, let’s roll out #1 and #2 now and reap the benefits.
Let’s also start experimenting with search rankings as soon as possible and roll them out as soon as we have the data.
Later in the email series, Anil Sabharwal questions how far executives are willing to go in terms of negative impacts on user experience, long-term retention, and team motivation.
Then he talks about the changes in search rankings:
“We’re making progress here, and I’m hopeful that the improvements in Omnibox’s search rankings will also lead to a significant increase in SQV volume, but I think we need to do more.”
The “optimizations” being discussed are a way to increase search queries and potential advertising revenue.
In another part of the email chain, Jerry Dessler commented on the short-term benefits of switching to “query-based revenue loss” and cited experiences with Chrome and search.
He then noted that they need to be more aggressive about increasing ad revenue.
“This is a good start but collectively we need to figure out how to do more and this work is urgent as we continue to face these strong headwinds in the second quarter.”
Anil Sabharwal, Chrome CEO, later discussed the changes to Chrome, specifically the Omnibox changes, which are designed to improve search queries, and the Chrome search query enhancement team describes the work as “heroic.”
“1…We were able to get launch approval to roll out two changes (counterproposal and backproposal) resulting in increased inquiries by [redacted]% and [redacted]% respectively.
2. We will immediately begin experiments to improve Omnibox search ranking (Get more search results and search higher).”
The changes Google made to Chrome were so bad that commenters on Reddit saw the experiments.
The CEO found it funny that Redditors thought the experiment was a “mistake.”
Another government exhibit includes a 2017 debate in which advertisers expressed frustration with the wall separating the advertising team from the research team.
The discussion suggests that the “query quota” should be taken into account on the search side.
The document shows:
The old style of throwing things over the wall in front of them has lost its usefulness…
There is talk of recommending that the research team consider new targets around query quotas, focusing on monetizable queries, and focusing the search experience on high-income countries. Let us go back…”
The document outlines the research team’s concerns about metrics that could lead to “unnatural search experiences” from search ad revenue.
So, it’s not as if the research team itself was complicit in finding fraud to generate more ad revenue.
Another document acknowledges that the research team itself did not want to engage in activities that would negatively impact consumers.
Read the full email document in PDF format.
Read another PDF exhibit that introduces the idea of “inquiry quotas.”