WASHINGTON, DC (CW69 News at 10/CNN) — The Justice Department (DOJ) on Tuesday sued Google in what is the largest antitrust case against a tech company in more than two decades.
In its complaint, the Justice Department makes sweeping allegations that Google has stifled competition to maintain its powerful position in the marketplace for online search and search advertising. The 11 states — Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and Texas — joined the suit, according to the complaint.
Justice Department officials did not rule out a breakup of Google on a call with reporters Tuesday.
“Nothing is off the table,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who warned that if DOJ did not file suit now, “we could lose the next wave of innovation” and that “Americans may never get to see the next Google.”
In a tweet from its public policy account after the complaint was filed, Google said, “Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed. People use Google because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives. We will have a full statement this morning.”
Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed. People use Google because they choose to — not because they're forced to or because they can't find alternatives. We will have a full statement this morning.
— Google Public Policy (@googlepubpolicy) October 20, 2020
The landmark federal complaint follows a year-long antitrust probe by DOJ investigators. And it comes on the heels of a major congressional report finding that Google and other tech giants enjoy “monopoly power” and have wielded their dominance in anticompetitive ways. That report alleges that Amazon has mistreated third-party sellers; that Apple’s app store fees and policies are anti-competitive; and that Facebook has sought to eliminate future rivals through targeted acquisitions.
According to a statement from Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr:
…the Complaint alleges that Google has unlawfully maintained monopolies in search and search advertising by:
- Entering into exclusivity agreements that forbid preinstallation of any competing search service.
- Entering into tying and other arrangements that force preinstallation of its search applications in prime locations on mobile devices and make them undeletable, regardless of consumer preference.
- Entering into long-term agreements with Apple that require Google to be the default – and de facto exclusive – general search engine on Apple’s popular Safari browser and other Apple search tools.
- Generally using monopoly profits to buy preferential treatment for its search engine on devices, web browsers, and other search access points, creating a continuous and self-reinforcing cycle of monopolization.
Generally using monopoly profits to buy preferential treatment for its search engine on devices, web browsers, and other search
The Justice Department’s suit against Google marks the most consequential step the U.S. government has taken to hold Silicon Valley to account after Washington took a dramatic turn against the tech industry following evidence that major social media platforms were manipulated by foreign election meddling efforts in 2016. Since then, Congress has repeatedly hauled in top executives of major tech platforms to face questions about their responsibilities toward political speech; hateful content and misinformation; small businesses and local journalism; and competition.
The looming case could pose an unprecedented risk to Google’s wider advertising business, which brought in $134.8 billion in revenue last year, accounting for 84% of Google’s total business.
Even as the Justice Department takes Google to court over antitrust concerns, others in the tech industry could face lawsuits of similar magnitude. Officials at the Federal Trade Commission have been investigating Facebook for over a year, and that investigation could culminate in its own landmark litigation.
The Google suit also symbolizes the growing criticism, particularly by former Democratic presidential candidates including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, against historic levels of economic inequality and corporate concentration in the United States.
“The most important tech industry monopolization case before this one was United States v. Microsoft in 1998,” William Kovacic, former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), told CNN Business before the DOJ announced the suit. During that case, the U.S. government alleged Microsoft broke the law by bundling its browser, Internet Explorer, with every copy of Windows — to the detriment of competition among browser makers. After several years of litigation, Microsoft and the government reached a settlement that imposed new limits on Microsoft’s software business.
Experts have since credited that case with paving the way for innovation — including the rise of Google.
Kovacic said that, as before, the government faces years of litigation ahead — and a challenging path to victory. “None of this will be easy,” he said. “You can climb to the summit, but it’s a tough climb.”
Attorney General William Barr has taken a personal interest in the investigation and the resulting lawsuit, the New York Times has reported.
After the head of DOJ’s antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, recused himself over having previously represented Google in private practice, Barr assigned senior staffers in his own office to oversee the probe. He has reportedly pushed for an aggressive timeline for filing a suit; as far back as March of this year, Barr told the Wall Street Journal he hoped to bring the investigation “to fruition [in] early summer.”
Google’s critics have complained that its search business promotes Google’s own apps and services to users while demoting those of its rivals.
“Google search is not a neutral gateway to the information available on the web,” David Dinielli, a senior advisor at Omidyar Network and a former DOJ antitrust official, told CNN Business before the suit was announced. “Google search is a set of algorithms designed to make Google — or Alphabet, its parent company — the most money it can possibly make.”
Google has also faced antitrust scrutiny and numerous multibillion-dollar fines from European regulators, punishments the company has protested.
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