Attorneys general in more than 30 US states targeted Google this week with a major new antitrust lawsuit, accusing the technology company of illegally protecting a monopoly over its search business.
The lawsuit marks the third against Google in recent months and is the latest in a series of antitrust actions by the US states, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission against powerful technology companies that until little seemed almost untouchable. Last week, Facebook was also hit by one-in-a-generation lawsuits that could ultimately divide the company.
“There hasn’t been a group of cases of this importance since the 1970s,” said William Kovacic, a law professor at George Washington University and former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. “This is a big problem.”
Thursday’s lawsuit against Google was filed by attorneys general for 35 states, the District of Columbia and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.
They accuse Google of maintaining “de facto exclusivity” by striking deals with ISPs and IT companies like Apple to make Google’s search engine the default on as many web browsers as possible. They also allege that Google engaged in “discriminatory conduct” by limiting the ability of competitive search providers such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.
The states are requesting that steps be taken to prevent Google from continuing these anti-competitive practices, including the possible dissolution of the company.
The case comes on the heels of two other major antitrust lawsuits against Google, one filed by the Justice Department and 11 states in October and another by 10 states filed earlier this week.
And it follows two long-anticipated lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and 48 states against Facebook last week that accused the social media giant of abusing its power on social media to crush smaller competitors, and sought solutions that could include a forced spin-off of Instagram. and WhatsApp.
This year’s antitrust actions marked the first time since the 1998 case against Microsoft that the US government accused a company of operating a monopoly under the Sherman Act, a law that dates back to 1890 and encourages competition between companies.
And they marked a surprising turnaround for Silicon Valley, which for years had avoided confrontations with Washington even as European regulators cracked down.
However, this wave of antitrust cases was not unexpected. Tech executives faced multiple questions before the US Congress this year, with concerns about monopoly behavior appearing in hearing after hearing.
Major social media companies such as Twitter, Google, Apple, and Facebook were targeted by both Republicans and Democrats, albeit for opposite reasons.
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and others made the big tech divide a key issue in the 2020 election, and Donald Trump frequently criticized tech companies on his Twitter account.
Also significant is the focus of the states, whose lawsuits have extended beyond the cases brought by federal enforcers and have filed bold new claims. States across the country have different views of how they believe companies like Google and Facebook are abusing their immense power in ways that harm other businesses, innovation, and even consumers who find their services indispensable.
Although the cases against the big tech companies are mounting rapidly, it will take some time to see substantial action taken.
Court dates for the Justice Department case are tentatively set for September 2023, a judge said at a hearing on Friday. Once the case goes to trial, it could last between five and 12 weeks, the attorneys involved estimated. This means that it will be years before we see the case argued, let alone Google or Facebook have to spin off or split their subsidiaries.
Google on Thursday rebutted that it has a monopoly on the search space, arguing that courts in other countries have thrown out such charges in previous cases. The company plans to fight the case in court, Adam Cohen, Google’s director of Economic Policy, said in a statement.
“We know that scrutiny from large companies is important and we are prepared to answer questions and solve problems,” Cohen said. “But this lawsuit seeks to redesign Search in a way that would deprive Americans of useful information and hurt the ability of companies to connect directly with customers.”
However, some of Google’s rival companies named in the lawsuit welcomed it.
The Yelp review site praised Thursday’s action, saying Google had long used its online domain to keep users in a “walled garden” of Google products.
“We hope that today’s action begins to restore an Internet that thrives on meritocracy and rewards innovation,” Yelp said in a statement.
The travel site Tripadvisor similarly praised the case, calling it “a victory for consumers.”
“[The charges] provide the framework for meaningful action to prevent Google from leveraging its gatekeeper position to benefit its own services and increase profits at the expense of competition and consumers, ”said Seth Kalvert, senior vice president and general counsel, Tripadvisor.
Associated Press contributed to this report.
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