When you need to search for something on the internet, you are almost certainly turning to Google. Following years of investigations, the DOJ has filed an antitrust case against the search giant, revolving around the way Google keeps us using its search and advertising services. According to the Department of Justice, Google has abused its market position to hobble competitors. Naturally, Google has fired back, calling the action “deeply flawed.”
The US government has flirted with filing charges against Google in the past — an investigation in 2012 was called off at the last moment when the DOJ decided it was unlikely the charges would stick. Today, the DOJ has joined with 11 state Attorneys General to file the case against Google. Interestingly, all of those state officials are Republicans. However, Democratic AGs have also been investigating Google, and several plan to join a separate lawsuit that covers issues beyond search and ads.
The case hinges on the way Google keeps its search engine in front of as many eyeballs as possible. For example, it pays Apple billions of dollars to make Google the default on its phones. It also forces Android licensees to provide Google search through uninstallable apps. The DOJ alleges these practices have made it impossible for upstart search providers to gain market share, and thus, significant advertising revenue.
This is the most aggressive antitrust action the US government has undertaken in decades, harkening back to the Microsoft case in the late 90s. That lawsuit eventually ended with a 2001 settlement that took the wind out of Microsoft’s sails and helped Google and other companies gain a foothold. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen says Google “achieved some success in its early years,” but that it has maintained power through “exclusionary practices.” Even most fans of Google products would admit there are potential issues with the way it runs its business today, but minimizing the revolutionary nature of Google’s early years as “some success” seems a bit disingenuous.
Google consistently claims that people use Google search not because they have to, but because they want to. That might be true, but it also sidesteps the DOJ’s point — regulators believe there would be more search options that people might want to use if not for Google’s alleged anticompetitive behavior. Still, Google has numerous examples of other search products integrated with Windows, iOS, and even its own Android platform. It will no doubt expand on these examples in excruciating detail as the case unfolds.
It could take years for this case to run its course, and more technology giants could be drawn in as time goes on. When the dust settles, the internet could end up being a vastly different place.
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