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US government sues Google over its 'illegal monopoly' on internet search and advertising services

The case is one of the country’s biggest antitrust lawsuits in decades.

Image: Shutterstock/achinthamb

THE US GOVERNMENT has issued legal proceedings against Google, accusing the company of maintaining an “illegal monopoly” in online search and advertising.

The case is one of the country’s biggest antitrust lawsuits in decades and could open the door to a potential breakup of the tech giant.

The case, which could take years to play out, is the latest attempt by the US government to take on big tech companies and could have major implications for the sector.

Proceedings were filed along with Attorneys General from 11 states in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

US Attorney General William Barr said that internet competition was “vitally important”, and described the case as “monumental” for both the US government and Americans.

“This lawsuit strikes at the heart of Google’s grip over the internet for millions of American consumers, advertisers, small businesses and entrepreneurs beholden to an unlawful monopolist,” Barr said.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the case took aim at Google’s dominance of the online ecosystem.

“Google is the gateway to the internet,” he told reporters today. “But it has maintained its monopoly through exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.”

A press release by the US Department of Justice claims that Google is the “monopoly gatekeeper to the internet for billions of users and countless advertisers worldwide”.

“For years, Google has accounted for almost 90 percent of all search queries in the United States and has used anti-competitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in search and search advertising,” it reads.

It lists a number of alleged anti-competitive practices including long-term agreements which required that Google search be pre-loaded on to devices, and others which make it impossible to delete some of the company’s apps.

The US government further alleges that Google pays billions to maintain its position, enabling it to reinforce its status as a monopoly.

And it also contends that Google’s actions shut out competitors, and proposes that the court should consider remedies including a possible breakup of the company, although it offered few specifics.

The filing calls for the court to “enjoin Google” from anti-competitive practices and consider “structural relief as needed to cure any anti-competitive harm”, which would mean structural changes to the tech giant.

“Anti-competitive practices harm competition and consumers, reducing the ability of innovative new companies to develop, compete, and discipline Google’s behaviour,” the Department of Justice said.

“The antitrust laws protect our free market economy and forbid monopolists from engaging in anti-competitive practices. They also empower the Department of Justice to bring cases like this one to remedy violations and restore competition.”

Asked about how officials would seek to break up Google, Rosen said the litigation would have to “proceed a little further before we would want to set out specifics”.

Google described the lawsuit as “deeply flawed”.

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“People use Google because they choose to – not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives,” the company said.

The move comes after months of investigations by US federal and state antitrust enforcers seeking to check the company’s power and parallel probes into other titans such as Amazon, Facebook and Apple.

Some have accused the firms of stifling competition and worsening economic inequality.

A recent House of Representatives report suggested Google and others should be broken up to preserve competition.

But others have accused those voices of having political bias, although evidence has been scant.

“Today’s review is a milestone but not a stopping point,” Rosen said.

“We plan to continue our review of competitive practices by leading online platforms.”

Containts reporting from © AFP 2020

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