By Sam Sabin
October 20, 2020 at 11:23 am ET
The Justice Department is accusing Alphabet Inc. unit Google of practicing anti-competitive behavior in an effort to keep its search services and search advertising business dominant, in a long-awaited lawsuit filed Tuesday in a Washington federal court. Claims include paying mobile carriers and browsers “billions of dollars each year” to maintain Google as the default search engine on their systems and making it more difficult for other search engines to be included as options on Android devices.
“Today the department’s review of competition conditions on online digital platforms has reached a milestone, but not a stopping point,” Jeffrey Rosen, the Justice Department’s deputy attorney general, told reporters.
Google said in a tweet that the federal lawsuit is “deeply flawed” and that users turn to its search engine “because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”
The lawsuit, filed exactly two weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election, marks the harshest action the U.S. government has taken against tech’s corporate power since the antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. in 1997, and follows years of turbulence for Silicon Valley in Washington as questions about the industry’s alleged monopolization, data collection practices and content moderation policies gain steam.
Eleven state attorneys general, including those from Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and Texas, also joined the Justice Department’s federal lawsuit. Politico reported last week that the DOJ failed to get any Democratic attorneys general to sign on to the suit during negotiations to combine the federal and state-led probes, prompting questions about the case’s prospects if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wins the election.
Ryan Shores, senior advisor for technology industries at the DOJ, told reporters that the department continues to have an open line of communication with states that did not sign on. Key Democratic lawmakers — including House antitrust subcommittee chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) — have expressed support for the Justice Department’s lawsuit.
Morning Consult asked experts and analysts for their opinions on the DOJ’s antitrust case against Google:
Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director, Public Knowledge
“You’ll notice that the complaint is pretty open-ended on what type of remedy is needed and remedying this conduct is going to be very difficult. Google has really amassed such a powerful position that many of the types of remedies that you think of would be insufficient to undo the harm here,” Slaiman said. “It will take a lot of learning to identify all of the detailed remedies that are needed, and Congress can help us make progress there.”
Richard Stables, chief executive, Kelkoo Group
“Ginormous, power-driven companies like this do one thing in this situation, and that’s take the can and kick it as far as they can down the road,” said Stables, who met with the Justice Department as a part of its 18-month investigation leading to Tuesday’s lawsuit.
“For the rest of the world to take on this giant is quite tough, but when the DOJ steps up, it’s something else because the DOJ has got this power behind it from the American Constitution and the law. The world sits there and goes, ‘The one place you can probably stop them is America.’”
Mark Jamison, visiting scholar, American Enterprise Institute
“I’m skeptical that this particular case would drive legislation,” Jamison said. “It takes legislation a long time, and my guess is that if we have a President Biden, and then he also gets a Democrat Congress, that they’ll have a lot of other things to do, and antitrust might not be the biggest selling point for, ‘here’s why you vote for me.’”
Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel, NetChoice
“When it comes to search, there really is no case,” said Szabo, whose organization counts Google as a member. “It requires a certain degree of myopia and forgetfulness of history to imagine an antitrust case against Google for search. We were saying the same thing about Yahoo not too long ago.”
Matt Stoller, director of research, American Economic Liberties Project
“When you look at this complaint, it’s basically the Microsoft complaint. They’re saying Microsoft tied Internet Explorer to its operating system, and it did it in lots of different ways, with lots of different contractual arrangements and then also integrating it into its products. This is the same thing. This is saying Google bundled its search into browsers and into phones using contractual arrangements, as well as tying it to its own products,” Stoller said.
“In the 1990s, they loved big companies. This is a different environment. Big Tech monopoly power has been in the presidential cycle in 2016; it was not in the 1990s.”