DOJ's Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google May Be First of Many

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Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Justice this week filed a lawsuit accusing Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and advertising.
  • Experts say that many other big tech companies could be the subject of antitrust lawsuits by the DOJ.
  • Google defended itself by saying that users can easily choose its competitors.
Google's offices stand in downtown Manhattan on October 20, 2020 in New York City
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The Department of Justice’s recent antitrust lawsuit against Google is likely to be the first of many actions against big tech companies, experts say. 

This week, the DOJ accused Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising. The suit claims that Google has conspired to restrict competition through exclusive contracts and agreements. It’s one of the government’s most significant threats to technology companies’ power in decades and there could be more to come, observers say. 

"I think this will be the first salvo fired against other big tech companies," Mark Vena, Senior Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said in an email interview. "The two obvious targets are Facebook and Twitter related to the accusations that they have knowingly censored information (e.g. the recent Hunter Biden news story published by the New York Post). 

"Both political parties have different issues with both Twitter and Facebook and I do expect more scrutiny of them (past the hearings that may be happening shortly) that could initiate a DOJ response."

Searching for Alternatives

At the heart of the new lawsuit is the government’s contention that Google’s search engine has become the default choice due to agreements with other tech companies. The DOJ said in its lawsuit filing that Google now controls about 80 percent of the search market. 

"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," Attorney General William Barr said in a news release.

"The allegations are similar to those asserted by [the] DOJ against Microsoft."

Google is also facing antitrust investigations by nearly 50 states and jurisdictions. Eleven state attorneys general signed on to support the federal lawsuit. Earlier this month, a report by House Democrats recommended changes to antitrust laws to rein in tech giants. The report found that Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are monopolies that need to be constrained.

"This case signals that the antitrust winter is over," Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, who has argued for breaking up Big Tech, told NPR this week. He added that the government has "a strong case" and "It seems to me surprising that Google wouldn't want to settle this and just say, OK, we'll make these concessions."

Vintage illustration of a wealthy oligarch looming over the factories and distribution centers of his manufacturing empire
GraphicaArtis / Getty Images

The company denied the allegations of wrongdoing in a blog post. Kent Walker, Google’s chief legal officer, said that while it’s true that it pays to promote its services, the government has not proved its antitrust case. 

"Our competitors are readily available too, if you want to use them," he wrote. "Our agreements with Apple and other device makers and carriers are no different from the agreements that many other companies have traditionally used to distribute software. Other search engines, including Microsoft’s Bing, compete with us for these agreements. And our agreements have passed repeated antitrust reviews."

More Lawsuits May Be Coming

The lawsuit is part of a growing wave of antitrust sentiment against big tech, experts say.

"The allegations are similar to those asserted by DOJ against Microsoft," Jeffrey S. Jacobovitz, an antitrust lawyer and partner in the law firm Arnall Golden Gregory LLP, said in an email interview. "I represented an intervenor in the Microsoft case brought by DOJ and the claims also involved exclusionary contracts. In addition, it was surprising to see how many State AGs joined in the lawsuit."

"I think this will be the first salvo fired against other big tech companies."

Next month’s presidential election may affect how the lawsuit proceeds, observers say. 

"Both political parties have different issues with Google and the lawsuit may mutate to some other form in a hypothetical Biden administration," Vena said. "You might see Google delay potential acquisition announcements until they've had a chance to understand and respond to the lawsuit itself. But I don't expect their overall operations to be significantly affected or changed in the short term."

The Trump administration has made no secret of its disdain for big tech companies. But with the new antitrust suit, Democrats and Republicans may finally have found an issue they can both agree on.