With the US government spinning in circles, Google is starting to play well with its smaller rivals

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by Paresh Dave and Sheila Dang


Alphabet Inc’s smaller Google rivals say signs are emerging of more benevolent behavior from the online advertising leader amid accusations from the US government and say the company is using its dominance to thwart competition .

Of the dozens of software makers that rely on Google as an intermediary for ad buyers and sellers, six told Reuters the company has become more collaborative on data privacy and other changes with them and with industry groups, helping those entities instead of ignoring requests as they have done in the past.

John Nardone, chief executive of Flashtalking – which works with advertisers to personalize messages – said Google recently agreed to open a pipeline to crucial data.

It was a business “that I may not have previously imagined they would be open to,” said Nardone, who publicly criticized Google’s rigidity last year.

Two other companies also said Google allowed them this year to use its services in previously restricted ways, one involving the use of external algorithms to analyze Google data and the other gaining sales opportunities that Google had reserved itself.

An executive at another adware company says Google didn’t try to poach customers last year by offering discounted or early access to other products, a tactic it had long pursued. aggressively to attract lucrative accounts. Google has also stopped using senior executives to attract customers, the source added.

“The fangs are down right now,” the person said.

The softened stances come amid year-long antitrust investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and state attorneys general led by Texas. Federal prosecutors are expected to sue Google as early as next week over search and search advertising while their adware investigation continues.

The search lawsuit will likely trigger years of court hearings to determine whether Google is unfairly using its outsized market power.

Despite the increased responsiveness, sources said Google’s smaller rivals continued to field questions from investigators about the market shares of Google’s advertising tools and the practices it uses to promote their adoption. These rivals are eagerly awaiting an eventual resolution, including splitting off Google’s advertising business in an effort to weaken its control.

“They are both the dominant market operator and a participant,” one executive said. “It’s difficult to be a referee and a player.”

Google rejected claims that its approach to competitors has changed due to the investigations, saying it has always sought to collaborate. The Texas Attorney General and the Department of Justice declined to comment.

Big Tech’s antitrust review has prompted several concessions this year to longstanding recriminations from small businesses. For example, Apple Inc has started allowing browsers alongside Safari by default on iPhones, and Google on Monday pledged to better support alternatives to its App Store Play on phones running its Android system.

To be sure, other complaints about market power have gone unaddressed, and Google and other online powerhouses continue to defend their dominance as beneficial to customers and consumers.

The state and federal investigations into Google followed complaints from adware companies and Internet publishers that Google had cut them off from valuable data or sales opportunities. Google said many of its actions were necessary to better protect user information as part of a global online privacy review.

Google is still pursuing additional protections, including preventing the tracking of users of its Chrome browser, which rivals fear could undermine their ability to personalize ads.

But rather than pursue a “my way or the highway” change, Google this time consulted its rivals publicly and demonstrated through its comments that its proposed changes to Chrome are modifiable, two adware execs said.

“That’s pretty reassuring,” said Colm Dolan, CEO of software company Publift and a former Google salesman.

Chetna Bindra, senior product manager at Google, said the company was “encouraged by the industry’s participation in the process and the positive feedback on a number of proposals.”

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