The Department of Justice in the United States, along with eleven state Attorneys General, filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against Google in the US District Court for the District of Columbia to stop it from unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets, and seeks to remedy the competitive harms.
The litigation marks the government's most significant act to protect competition since its ground-breaking 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.
‚ÄúToday, millions of Americans rely on the Internet and online platforms for their daily lives. Competition in this industry is vitally important, which is why today‚Äôs challenge against Google ‚ÄĒ the gatekeeper of the Internet ‚ÄĒ for violating antitrust laws is a monumental case both for the Department of Justice and for the American people,‚ÄĚ said Attorney General William Barr said in a media statement.
‚ÄúThis lawsuit strikes at the heart of Google‚Äôs grip over the internet for millions of American consumers, advertisers, small businesses and entrepreneurs beholden to an unlawful monopolist,‚ÄĚ the Attorney General added.
Accounting for nearly 90% of all search queries in the US, the lawsuit accuses Google of using anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in search and search advertising.
The complaint alleges that Google has entered into a series of exclusionary agreements that ‚Äúcollectively lock up the primary avenues through which users access search engines, and thus the internet, by requiring that Google be set as the preset default general search engine on billions of mobile devices and computers worldwide and, in many cases, prohibiting preinstallation of a competitor.‚ÄĚ
The complaint alleges that Google enters into tying arrangements that force of its search applications in prime locations on mobile devices and makes them undeletable, regardless of consumer preference.
The complaint also alleges that Google is ‚Äúentering into long-term agreements with Apple that require Google to be the default ‚Äď and de facto exclusive ‚Äď general search engine on Apple‚Äôs popular Safari browser and other Apple search tools.‚ÄĚ
This monopoly profits, the lawsuit alleges, is used to buy preferential treatment creates a continuous and self-reinforcing cycle of monopolization.
‚ÄúThese and other anticompetitive practices harm competition and consumers, reducing the ability of innovative new companies to develop, compete, and discipline Google‚Äôs behavior,‚ÄĚ the DoJ said in a statement.
‚ÄúGoogle has foreclosed any meaningful search competitor from gaining vital distribution and scale, eliminating competition for a majority of search queries in the United States. By restricting competition in search, Google‚Äôs conduct has harmed consumers by reducing the quality of search (including on dimensions such as privacy, data protection, and use of consumer data), lessening choice in search, and impeding innovation. By suppressing competition in advertising, Google has the power to charge advertisers more than it could in a competitive market and to reduce the quality of the services it provides them,‚ÄĚ the statement adds.
Through the lawsuit, the DoJ is seeking to stop Google‚Äôs anticompetitive conduct and restore competition for American consumers, advertisers, and all companies now reliant on the internet economy.
The DoJ began a formal review of online market-leading platforms in July 2019, which also included the Antitrust Division‚Äôs investigation of Google.
The DoJ has said that over the past 16 months, the Antitrust Division has collected convincing evidence that Google no longer competes only on the merits but instead uses its monopoly and profits it makes out of it to ‚Äėlock up key pathways to search on mobile phones, browsers, and next generation devices, depriving rivals of distribution and scale‚Äô.
As a result of such practices, the DoJ alleges that no one can challenge Google‚Äôs dominance in search advertising either, which harms users, advertisers, and small businesses in the form of fewer choices, reduced quality, higher advertising prices, and less innovation.
Trump has often criticized Google, recycling unfounded claims by conservatives that the search giant is biased against conservatives and suppresses their viewpoints, interferes with U.S. elections and prefers working with the Chinese military over the Pentagon.
The company, based in Mountain View, California, has long denied the claims of unfair competition. Google 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. Google insists that it holds no special power forcing people to use its free services or preventing them from going elsewhere.
This landmark lawsuit also comes 25 years after the DoJ sued Microsoft, which is claims paved the way for a new wave of tech companies including Google.
‚ÄúIf we let Google continue its anticompetitive ways, we will lose the next wave of innovators and Americans may never get to benefit from the ‚Äúnext Google.‚ÄĚ The time has come to restore competition to this vital industry,‚ÄĚ it said in a statement.
With PTI inputs