Google sued by DOJ in antitrust case over search dominance

U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivers opening remarks at a summit on “Combating Anti-Semitism” at the Justice Department in Washington, July 15, 2019.

Erin Scott | Reuters

The Department of Justice filed its antitrust lawsuit against Google Tuesday, focusing on the tech giant’s dominance in online search.

Eleven Republican state attorneys general have joined the DOJ as plaintiffs in the case: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and Texas, according to an open docket of the case filed Tuesday morning.

Google’s stock barely moved following news of the suit. Shares were slightly positive as of Tuesday morning.

The DOJ and states are bringing the complaint under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, alleging Google has unlawfully maintained monopolies in markets for “general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising,” according to the lawsuit. They claim Google has maintained its monopoly through “anticompetitive and exclusionary practices.”

The lawsuit is the culmination of a more than year-long investigation into the company’s business practices. Google was previously the subject of a U.S. antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission over its search product, but the agency closed that probe in 2013 without charges. A leaked document published by The Wall Street Journal later showed staff had recommended bringing a case on several grounds.

The DOJ lawsuit marks the first time a serious antitrust charge has been brought against Google on the federal level in its home country. Attorneys general from every state besides Alabama have also been probing Google’s practices. California’s attorney general has not confirmed its investigation, but Politico reported last month that the state had opened its own probe separate from the multistate effort led by Texas.

Attorney General Bill Barr had pushed staff in the Antitrust Division to bring a case against Google by the end of September, though most of the roughly 40 lawyers working on the probe wanted more time to craft a more thorough case, The New York Times first reported. Disagreements about how to approach the case between the Republican Justice Department and the state-led probe including mostly Democratic AGs had stalled the decision to bring a case, Politico reported last month.

On a call with reporters Tuesday, DOJ officials said they continue to keep lines of communication open to states that had not initially joined the suit and said that those enforcers expressed broad support for the issues in the suit.

“Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “People use Google because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives. We will have a fuller statement this morning.”

On the press call, DOJ Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the suit marked “a milestone but not a stopping point” in the agency’s review of digital platforms that began in 2019. He said the department would continue to look into dominant internet platforms for potential misconduct.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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