FILE - This Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, file photo shows Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. As the Trump administration moves toward antitrust action against search giant Google, it’s campaigning to enlist support from sympathetic state attorneys general across the country. And President Donald Trump is pushing his campaign against Big Tech on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, touting curbs on legal protections for social media platforms he denounces as biased against conservative views.(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Justice Dept. files landmark antitrust case against Google

Justice Dept. files landmark antitrust case against Google

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Tuesday sued Google for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising — the government’s most significant attempt to protect competition since its groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago.

And it could just be an opening salvo. Other major tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Facebook are under investigation at both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

“Google is the gateway to the internet and a search advertising behemoth,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen told reporters. “It has maintained its monopoly power through exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.”

Lawmakers and consumer advocates have long accused Google of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising. The case filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleges that Google uses billions of dollars collected from advertisers to pay phone manufacturers to ensure Google is the default search engine on browsers. That stifles competition and innovation from smaller upstart rivals to Google and harms consumers by reducing the quality of search and limiting privacy protections and alternative search options, the government alleges.

Critics contend that multibillion-dollar fines and mandated changes in Google’s practices imposed by European regulators in recent years weren’t severe enough and Google needs to be broken up to change its conduct. The Justice Department didn’t lay out specific remedies along those lines, although it asked the court to order structural relief “as needed to remedy any anticompetitive harm.”

That opens the door to possible fundamental changes such as a spinoff of the company’s Chrome browser.

Google vowed to defend itself and responded immediately via tweet: “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.”

Eleven states, all with Republican attorneys general, joined the federal government in the lawsuit. But several other states demurred.

The attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah released a statement Monday saying they have not concluded their investigation into Google and would want to consolidate their case with the DOJ’s if they decided to file. “It’s a bipartisan statement,” said spokesman Fabien Levy of the New York State attorney general’s office. “There’s things that still need to be fleshed out, basically”

President Donald Trump’s administration has long had Google in its sights. One of Trump’s top economic advisers said two years ago that the White House was considering whether Google searches should be subject to government regulation. Trump has often criticized Google, recycling unfounded claims by conservatives that the search giant is biased against conservatives and suppresses their viewpoints.

Rosen told reporters that allegations of anti-conservative bias are “a totally separate set of concerns” from the issue of competition.

Sally Hubbard, an antitrust expert who runs enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, said it was a welcome surprise to see the Justice Department’s openness to the possibility of structurally breaking up Google, and not just imposing conditions on its behaviour as has happened in Europe.

“Traditionally, Republicans are hesitant to speak of breakups,” she said. “Personally, I’ll be very disappointed if I see a settlement. Google has shown it won’t adhere to any behavioural conditions.”

The argument for reining in Google has gathered force as the company stretched far beyond its 1998 roots as a search engine governed by the motto “Don’t Be Evil.” It’s since grown into a diversified goliath with online tentacles that scoop up personal data from billions of people via services ranging from search, video and maps to smartphone software. That data helps feed the advertising machine that has turned Google into a behemoth.

The company owns the leading web browser in Chrome, the world’s largest smartphone operating system in Android, the top video site in YouTube and the most popular digital mapping system. Some critics have singled out YouTube and Android as among Google businesses that should be considered for divestiture.

Google, whose corporate parent Alphabet Inc. has a market value just over $1 trillion, controls about 90% of global web searches. Barring a settlement, a trial would likely begin late next year or in 2022.

The company, based in Mountain View, California, argues that although its businesses are large, they are useful and beneficial to consumers. It maintains that its services face ample competition and have unleashed innovations that help people manage their lives.

Most of Google’s services are offered for free in exchange for personal information that helps it sell its ads.

In a Tuesday presentation with a handful of reporters, Google argued that its services have helped hold down the prices of smartphones and that consumers can easily switch away from services like Google Search even if it’s the default option on smartphones and in some internet browsers.

A recent report from a House Judiciary subcommittee concluded that Google has monopoly power in the market for search. It said the company established its position in several markets through acquisition, snapping up successful technologies that other businesses had developed — buying an estimated 260 companies in 20 years.

The Democratic congressman who led that investigation called Tuesday’s action “long overdue.”

“It is critical that the Justice Department’s lawsuit focuses on Google’s monopolization of search and search advertising, while also targeting the anticompetitive business practices Google is using to leverage this monopoly into other areas, such as maps, browsers, video, and voice assistants,” Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island said in a statement.

Columbia Law professor Tim Wu called the suit almost a carbon copy of the government’s 1998 lawsuit against Microsoft. He said via email that the U.S. government has a decent chance of winning. “However, the likely remedies — i.e., knock it off, no more making Google the default — are not particularly likely to transform the broader tech ecosystem.”

Other advocates, however, said the Justice Department’s timing — it’s only two weeks to Election Day — smacked of politics. The government’s “narrow focus and alienation of the bipartisan state attorneys general is evidence of an unserious approach driven by politics and is likely to result in nothing more than a choreographed slap on the wrist for Google,” Alex Harman, a competition policy advocate at Public Citizen, said in a statement.

Republicans and Democrats have accelerated their criticism of Big Tech in recent months, although sometimes for different reasons. It’s unclear what the status of the government’s suit against Google would be if a Joe Biden administration were to take over next year.

The Justice Department sought support for its suit from states across the country that share concerns about Google’s conduct. A bipartisan coalition of 50 U.S. states and territories, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, announced a year ago they were investigating Google’s business practices, citing “potential monopolistic behaviour.”

Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and Texas joined the Justice Department lawsuit.

___

AP Technology Writers Michael Liedtke in San Ramon, Calif., Matt O’Brien in Providence, R.I., and Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.

___

Follow Balsamo and Gordon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1 and https://twitter.com/mgordonap.

Michael Balsamo And Marcy Gordon, The Associated Press

Google

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo a sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif. The Justice Department is expected to file a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that Google has been abusing its online dominance in online search to stifle competition and harm consumers. The litigation marks the government’s most significant act to protect competition since its groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago. The suit could be an opening salvo ahead of other major government antitrust actions, given ongoing investigations of major tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Facebook at both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Just Posted

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Meghan Huizing has been selected by Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools as a finalist for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) 2021 Edwin Parr Award. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools)
Red Deer Catholic names finalist for Edwin Parr Award

Meghan Huizing from St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Blackfalds has… Continue reading

GrammaLink-Africa members are participating in the Stride to Turn the Tide campaign until June 30. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer group walking to raise money for African grandmothers

A group of central Albertans will be walking every day until the… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday, March 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau announces donation to Duke of Edinburgh’s award ahead of funeral

Canada will donate $200,000 to the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award as… Continue reading

Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (Science) Will Amos responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. The Liberal MP who inadvertently flashed his parliamentary colleagues says the fact that a screenshot of him in the nude was leaked to the media sends a troubling message about the corrosive state of politics in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
Canada’s naked MP speaks out: leaked photo sends message ‘anything goes’ in politics

OTTAWA — The Liberal MP who inadvertently flashed his parliamentary colleagues says… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $10 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $10 million jackpot… Continue reading

Opinion
Opinion: Canada’s self-esteem needs Trump

Well, it was fun while it lasted. For four years, with Donald… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Shenanigans on the links

It must be something about my Scottish heritage but I seem to… Continue reading

Muskrats can occupy any wetland that is shallow enough to permit the growth of their aquatic food.
Pearman: Muskrats numbers rebounding in central Alberta

I have spent many pleasant hours muskrat watching. Time spent in the… Continue reading

Most Read