Department of Justice Sues Google Claiming Monopolization Over Search Engines

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By Margaret Adams

The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Google claiming that they hold a monopoly over internet search and search advertising on Tuesday, Oct. 20. 

It is no secret that Google has been the main player in online search engines and a spearhead in the great technological push of the 21st century; Google’s recent market value is estimated at over $1 trillion. The company makes over $110 billion a year on advertising alone and owns about 90% of all search uses in the United States, according to the Department of Justice. 

The Department of Justice, as well as 11 other Attorney General offices, filed the civil antitrust lawsuit in order to inhibit Google from “gatekeeping” search use and search advertising, which inhibits consumers from using competitive internet search engines such as Bing or FireFox. 

According to the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs, Google has used anti-competitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in search and search advertising. In their statement, the DOJ claims that their monopoly has been maintained through many exclusivity agreements. This substantial control over search engines has been sustained through the automatic placement of Google Search in a variety of products such as Apple’s Mac laptop or iPhone:

“By suppressing competition in advertising, Google has the power to charge advertisers more than it could in a competitive market and to reduce the quality of the services it provides them. Through filing the lawsuit, the Department seeks to stop Google’s anticompetitive conduct and restore competition for American consumers, advertisers, and all companies now reliant on the internet economy.”

These agreements, as well as other practices that discourage competition, “reduc[e] the ability of innovative new companies to develop, compete, and discipline Google’s behavior,” according to the Department of Justice. 

Attorney General William P. Barr explained how a similar situation arose in a lawsuit against Microsoft almost 20 years ago. 

“The increased competition following the Microsoft case enabled Google to grow from a small start-up to an Internet behemoth,” he said. “Unfortunately, once Google itself gained dominance, it resorted to the same anticompetitive playbook. If we let Google continue its anticompetitive ways, we will lose the next wave of innovators and Americans may never get to benefit from the ‘next Google.’”

A statement from Google claimed that the lawsuit severely underestimates consumers, as they have the power to use other search engines through the use of apps:

“This lawsuit claims that Americans aren’t sophisticated enough to do this… people downloaded a record 204 billion apps in 2019. Many of the world’s most popular apps aren’t preloaded—think of Spotify, Instagram, Snapchat, Amazon and Facebook.”

Google also claims that the lawsuit, which they deem “deeply flawed,” would not even aid consumers, as they would receive worse search engines from their competitors:

“…[I]t would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

Google stated that the lawsuit would inhibit consumers from using their search engine, thus hurting them and consumers:

“American antitrust law is designed to promote innovation and help consumers, not tilt the playing field in favor of particular competitors or make it harder for people to get the services they want. We’re confident that a court will conclude that this suit doesn’t square with either the facts or the law.”

Many consumers are concerned that a balance between holding the company responsible and having easy access to Google’s search engine will not be met. A huge demographic that relies on Google and Apple is college students. Avid Google user and CUA sophomore Justus DeCelles-Zwernemann explains why college students should be concerned with the outcome of this historic lawsuit: 

“It’s your right to know by what potentially bad means they got to be your main source, but always maintain a healthy skepticism when you hear politicians waving the sword of ‘trust-busting,’” he said. “Google may have achieved its platform through nasty means, but we don’t want the government to simply replace their presence.”

Another CUA sophomore Franchetta Groves illustrated how that same population of college students, who grew up with Google, will see Google potentially changed by way of government regulation.

“I definitely think it affects our generation much differently than our parents because we have quite frankly grown up with this technology,” she said. “I think the fact that this is the first time Google has had to really face regulations shows how technology is being forced to adapt our laws in different ways. Google has faced criticism over privacy concerns in the past and now with the antitrust law violation claims, I think it shows how the rise of the internet has led to complications in the law, the question of what is a monopoly, and the government’s role in handling it.”

The first hearing for the lawsuit took place over a phone call on Oct. 30. The next status hearing will take place on Nov. 18. 

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