Google faces its third major lawsuit of the year

Google has long denied accusations of antitrust violations and is expected to use its global network of lawyers, economists, and lobbyists to fight back.
18 December 2020

Google faces its third major lawsuit of the year. Source: AFP

  • The lawsuit is the third competition case US regulators have filed against the search and advertising behemoth since October
  • All three lawsuits paint Google as a ruthless corporate behemoth choking off the competition in a wide range of businesses

On top of Google’s legal woes for the year, the search engine giant has been slapped by another lawsuit by more than 30 states, accusing the Silicon Valley titan of illegally arranging its search results to push out smaller rivals.

Thursday’s lawsuit is just the latest in a stream of court challenges for Google. Just a day prior, Texas’ state attorney general announced new antitrust charges against the search giant — focusing on Google’s ad tech practices, primarily taking issue with the company’s requirements for publishers. The Justice Department also filed its own suit in October, along with 11 Republican state attorneys general, focusing on Google’s exclusive contracts with phone makers like Apple to prioritize Google’s search service over rivals like Firefox and DuckDuckGo.

In brief, it has enabled Google a nearly 90% market dominance in search and has made it impossible for smaller companies to grow into formidable competitors. Google has sought to extend that dominance to new venues like home voice assistants, said the prosecutors, from states including Colorado, Nebraska, New York, and Utah.

Legal salvo

For years now, critics have argued that Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon built sprawling empires over commerce, communications, and culture, and then abused their growing power. It only recently had federal or state regulators brought major cases against them.

New York Democratic Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement on Thursday, “Google sits at the crossroads of so many areas of our digital economy and has used its dominance to illegally squash competitors, monitor nearly every aspect of our digital lives, and profit to the tune of billions”.

According to a press release from the New York attorney general’s office, the states are asking the court to stop Google’s illegal conduct and “restore a competitive marketplace.” They are also seeking to “counter any advantages that Google gained as a result of its anticompetitive conduct,” including possible divestitures.

Google’s director of economic policy Adam Cohen in a blog post on Thursday said the lawsuit seeks to redesign Search in ways that would deprive Americans of helpful information and hurt businesses’ ability to connect directly with customers. “We look forward to making that case in court while remaining focused on delivering a high-quality search experience for our users. We know that scrutiny of big companies is important and we’re prepared to answer questions and work through the issues”.

Google has long denied accusations of antitrust violations and is expected to use its global network of lawyers, economists, and lobbyists to fight the multiple accusations against it. The company has a market value of US$1.18 trillion and cash reserves of over US$120 billion.

Looking back, Google investigations have moved faster than the other inquiries into Amazon and Apple because of yearslong accusations of the search engine behemoth’s anticompetitive practices by rivals like Microsoft and Yelp, and publishers like News Corp. European cases against Google and an investigation by the FTC into Google’s search practices that ended in 2013 have created volumes of records and theories of harm. The agency’s inquiry closed without action.

That being said, Thursday’s announcement reflects the deep interest among regulators around the world in Google’s signature search product. In Europe, regulators fined Google roughly US$2.7 billion in 2017 for privileging its own comparison shopping tool over those produced by independent websites. European Union authorities also fined Google for bundling its services with its Android mobile operating system, and Google agreed to let rival search engines bid for the default spot on some devices.