Prosecutors in more than 30 US states have targeted Google this week in a major new antitrust lawsuit, accusing the tech company of illegally protecting a monopoly on its search activity.
The third lawsuit against Google in recent months is the latest in a series of antitrust actions by the US states, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission against powerful tech companies that until recently appeared untouchable. Last week, Facebook was also hit by a once-in-a-generation lawsuit that could ultimately lead to the company’s breakup.
“There hasn’t been a set of cases of this importance since the 1970s,” said William Kovacic, a law professor at George Washington University and former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. “This is a big deal.”
The lawsuit was filed Thursday against Google by prosecutors in 35 states, the District of Columbia, the territory of Guam and Puerto Rico.
They accuse Google of maintaining “virtual exclusivity” by striking deals with internet providers and computer companies such as Apple to make Google the default search engine on as many web browsers as possible. They also claim that Google is engaging in “discriminatory behavior” by limiting the power of competitive search providers such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.
States are calling for action to prevent Google from continuing these anti-competitive practices, including the possible break-up of the company.
The case comes on the heels of two other major antitrust lawsuits against Google, one by the Department of Justice and 11 states filed in October and one of 10 states earlier this week.
It comes on the heels of two long-awaited lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and 48 states against Facebook last week in which they accused the social media giant of abusing its power in social networks to crush young competitors, and sought remedies that could include the forced split of Instagram and WhatsApp.
The antitrust action this year was the first time since a 1998 lawsuit against Microsoft that the US government accused a company of administering a monopoly under the Sherman Act, a law dating back to 1890 that encouraged competition between companies.
They were a stunning reversal of Silicon Valley, which for years avoided clashes with Washington even as European regulators cracked down.
But this wave of antitrust lawsuits was not unexpected. Tech executives have faced multiple inquiries in the US Congress this year, with concerns about monopolistic behavior emerging at the post-hearing hearing.
Major social media companies like Twitter, Google, Apple and Facebook have come under fire from Republicans and Democrats, albeit for opposing reasons.
Democratic presidential nominee Elizabeth Warren and others have made dismantling big tech a major issue in the 2020 election, and Donald Trump has often criticized tech companies on his Twitter account.
Also important is the approach of the states, whose lawsuits have extended beyond the cases brought by federal competition enforcement agencies and have brought bold new lawsuits. Countries from across the country are looking at different visions of how they believe companies like Google and Facebook are exploiting their enormous power in ways that harm other businesses, innovation, and even consumers who find their services indispensable.
Although cases against major tech companies are piling up rapidly, any substantive action will take time.
A judge said at Friday’s hearing that trial dates for the Ministry of Justice case were tentatively set for September 2023. The attorneys involved estimate that once the case is referred to trial, it can last from five to 12 weeks. This means it will take years before we see the issue in dispute, not to mention that Google or Facebook must split up or break up its affiliates.
Google denied on Thursday that it has a monopoly on search, saying that courts in other countries have rejected such charges in previous cases. Adam Cohen, Google’s director of economic policy, said in a statement that the company plans to fight the case in court.
“We know that auditing big companies is important and we are ready to answer questions and work on solving problems,” Cohen said. “But this lawsuit seeks to redesign the research in ways that would deprive Americans of useful information and harm the ability of businesses to communicate directly with clients.”
But some of Google’s competitors mentioned in the lawsuit have welcomed it.
Review site Yelp praised its action Thursday, saying Google had long used its internet dominance to keep users in a “walled garden” of Google products.
“We hope today’s action will begin to restore an internet that thrives on merit and rewards innovation,” Yelp said in a statement.
The travel site Tripadvisor has likewise praised the issue as a “consumer benefit”.
“[The charges] It provides a framework for targeted action to prevent Google from leveraging its position as a guardian to benefit its owned services and increase its profits at the expense of competition and consumers, ”said Seth Calvert, Senior Vice President and General Council of Tripadvisor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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