The United States government filed a box office lawsuit Tuesday accusing Google of maintaining an “illegal monopoly” on online search and advertising in the nation’s largest antitrust case in decades, opening the door to a possible Titan breakout. from Silicon Valley.
The politically charged case, which could take years to develop, draws new battle lines between the US government and Big Tech with potentially important implications for the sector.
Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the case brought to 11-state Republican state attorneys general points to Google’s dominance in the online ecosystem.
“Google is the gateway to the Internet,” Rosen told reporters.
“But it has maintained its monopoly through exclusionary practices that are detrimental to competition.”
The lawsuit says these agreements include long-term agreements that require Google search to be preloaded on devices and make it impossible to remove some of its applications.
The government claims that Google pays billions to maintain that position, thus reinforcing its monopoly position.
The lawsuit filed in Washington contends that Google’s actions excluded competitors and proposes that the court consider a variety of solutions.
The filing asks the court to “ban Google” from anti-competitive practices and consider “structural” changes in the company, which could spell its breakup.
Google called the lawsuit “deeply flawed.”
“People use Google because they want to, not because they are forced to or because they can’t find alternatives,” Google’s General Counsel Kent Walker said in a blog post.
“This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. Rather, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, drive up phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use. “
The move comes after months of investigations by US state and federal antitrust agents seeking to control the power of the company, and parallel investigations into other titans such as Amazon, Facebook and Apple.
Progressives have accused companies of stifling competition and exacerbating economic inequality. A recent House of Representatives report suggested that Google and others should split up to preserve competition.
Conservatives have accused them of political bias, although the evidence has been scant.
– More to come? –
Officials hinted that more antitrust action may be coming.
“Today’s review is a milestone, but not a stopping point,” Rosen said.
“We plan to continue our review of the competitive practices of the major online platforms.”
Google, the main unit of the Alphabet holding company, operates the dominant search engine used in most of the world and a variety of services such as maps, email, advertising and shopping.
It also operates the Android mobile operating system used in most smartphones around the world.
Google has received heavy fines in the European Union for unfair competition and has challenged those cases. The company has consistently denied allegations of monopoly abuse.
Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, said the lawsuit was “well expressed,” but appeared to be motivated by the Trump administration’s political animosity toward Silicon Valley.
Goldman said the case could end up being “Microsoft redux,” with the industry evolving faster than the legal process.
“Any discussion of the remedy is premature given the time it will take to litigate this case,” he said.
– Damage to the consumer? –
The case is the highest-profile since the action brought against Microsoft in 1998 and could be a test case for antitrust.
To win in court, the government must exceed a lengthy antitrust standard that cases must show that consumers are harmed by monopolistic practices.
Charlotte Slaiman of consumer group Public Knowledge called the presentation “an important first step toward people-centric innovation in search engines” and said it could lead to “better products and services to compete fairly in the search engine. search market “.
Google and its followers will argue that consumers benefit from the free services it offers even if some competitors are at a disadvantage.
Matt Schruers of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a trade group that includes Google, said the lawsuit “was rushed on the eve of an election in which the administration has aggressively lobbied technology companies to take action on their behalf. favor”.
Avery Gardiner, a former US antitrust enforcement attorney investigating competition for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the government faces an uphill battle to prove Google’s harm to consumers.
The demand “basically ignores price and focuses on quality and innovation,” he said.
That’s not new, he said, “but antitrust agencies in the past have been reluctant to move forward without evidence of price effects, so this is a change.