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Google reportedly ran secret ‘Project Bernanke’ that boosted its own ad-buying system over competitors

The information was revealed in unredacted court documents

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google reportedly ran a secret project called “Project Bernanke” that relied on bidding data collected from advertisers using its ad exchange to benefit the company’s own ad system, The Wall Street Journal reported. First discovered by newswire service MLex, the name of the project was visible in an inadvertently unredacted document Google had filed as part of an antitrust lawsuit in Texas.

A federal judge has since let Google refile the document under seal. But according to the Journal, “Bernanke” was not disclosed to outside advertisers, and proved lucrative for Google, generating hundreds of millions of dollars for the company. Texas filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google in December, alleging that the search giant was using anticompetitive tactics in which “Bernanke” was a major part.

Google wrote in the unredacted filing that data from Project Bernanke was “comparable to data maintained by other buying tools,” according to the Journal. The company was able to access historical data about bids made through Google Ads, to change bids by its clients and boost the clients’ chances of winning auctions for ad impressions, putting rival ad tools at a disadvantage. Texas cited in court documents an internal presentation from 2013 in which Google said Project Bernanke would bring in $230 million in revenue for that year.

Why Google chose to name the secret project “Bernanke” is not clear. Ben Bernanke, who was chair of the Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014, is probably the best-known Bernanke in the public sphere.

In an email to The Verge, a Google spokesperson said the complaint by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton “misrepresents many aspects of our ad tech business. We look forward to making our case in court.”

Update April 11th 10:54AM ET: Adds comment from Google spokesperson