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Alexander Fanta
13 June 2022
published in Issue One

Google’s rise to dominance can seem inevitable, and its power over publishers monolithic. Yet Google’s wanton disruption of publishing resembles evolution more than intelligent design. It is not easy to understand the role Google plays, or for that matter what it even is: partner, competitor, benefactor. Journalists, publishers, regulators, and scholars are left grappling with our new, random god.

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The Guardian, in a series of test purchases in 2016, found that in the worst-case scenario only 30 per cent of ad spending actually reached the publisher hosting the ad. Even after several shifts in the ad market, Google’s average share of every ad dollar spent in its network is « as high as 42 percent », a recent antitrust lawsuit by US state attorneys alleges. This charge is heaped on publishers, who have little choice but to use Google’s AdX, or its largest rival OpenX.

As leaked papers from talks between member states, published by my employer netzpolitik.org and by the journalist collective Investigate Europe have shown, those two countries have – so far unsuccessfully – tried to limit the scope of a planned EU law, the Digital Markets Act, that aims to curb some anti-competitive practices by tech platforms.

A scandal at Springer in October 2021 ousted Bild editor-in-chief Julian Reichelt over allegations of sexual misconduct, yet Döpfner’s position has remained firmly entrenched despite allegations that he suppressed revelations of the scandal in a rival publication.