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'Long Overdue': Justice Department Sues Google in Antitrust Case

The filing, announced Tuesday morning, accuses the tech giant of violating law to stifle competition.

The Google logo is projected onto a man on August 09, 2017 in London.

The Google logo is projected onto a man on August 9, 2017 in London. (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday an antitrust lawsuit against Google—a filing that marks the biggest government case tackling tech power since the one targeting Microsoft in 1998.

The filing is joined by 11 states, all of which have Republican governors, as Reuters noted.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) responded to the announcement by pointing to the House antitrust subcommittee's recent report finding that Google, along with other tech giants, holds monopoly power.

"This step is long overdue," Cicilline tweeted of the government's new lawsuit, adding, "It is time to restore competition online."

As CNN reported:

[The complaint] alleges in part that Google pays billions of dollars a year to device manufacturers like Apple, LG, Motorola, and Samsung and browser developers like Mozilla and Opera to be their default search engine and in many cases to prohibit them from dealing with Google's competitors. As a result, "Google effectively owns or controls search distribution channels accounting for roughly 80% of the general search queries in the United States."

 What's more, the Washington Post added:

With this vast, unparalleled reach, Google further enriched itself through lucrative ads that appear alongside search results, the DOJ found. The massive profits from that business allowed Google to maintain its foothold and make it impossible for other search engines to compete, the lawsuit alleges.

Google, for its part, called the lawsuit "deeply flawed," said it was based on "dubious antitrust arguments," and claimed it will "make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use."

Attorney General William Barr—appointed by President Donald Trump—said in a statement the legal action was a "monumental case" that followed 16 months of the Justice Department's antitrust division collecting "convincing evidence" about the company he dubbed "the monopoly gatekeeper of the internet."

"Twenty-five years ago, the Department of Justice sued Microsoft, paving the way for a new wave of innovative tech companies—including Google," he explained. "The increased competition following the Microsoft case enabled Google to grow from a small start-up to an internet behemoth."

"Unfortunately," said Barr, "once Google itself gained dominance, it resorted to the same anti-competitive playbook."

Open Markets Institute, a research and advocacy group, framed the lawsuit as a "big moment."

In a Twitter thread Monday ahead of the announcement, the group wrote that "Google... acquired its dominance of the internet search market by bribing smartphone manufacturers and wireless operators not to install rival search engines on devices they sold."

Alex Harman, competition policy advocate at Public Citizen, suggested the lawsuit deserves little praise from anti-monopoly advocates because it amounted to merely "a thinly veiled political stunt."

"The Trump DOJ's narrow focus and alienation of the bipartisan state attorneys general is evidence of an unserious approach driven by politics and is likely to result in nothing more than a choreographed slap on the wrist for Google," Harman said.

Harman further framed the filing as "a missed opportunity to bring about a structural reckoning with one of the most powerful and wealthy companies in the world so that Trump and Barr can score political points" and pointed to state attorneys general as being better equipped to lead the charge.

That effort is still underway.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said following the DOJ announcement that the multi-state antitrust investigation into Google she's leading will continue, with parts of that probe set to conclude "in the coming weeks."

"If we decide to file a complaint," said James, "we would file a motion to consolidate our case with the DOJ's. We would then litigate the consolidated case cooperatively, much as we did in the Microsoft case."

While the government's filing targets Google, other tech giants could soon find themselves in similar territory.

According to the Associated Press, the new lawsuit could mark "an opening salvo ahead of other major government antitrust actions, given ongoing investigations of major tech companies including Apple, Amazon, and Facebook at both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission."

More, however, would still need to be done to address abuses committed by tech behemoths.

That's according to Tom Wheeler, former Federal Communications Commission chair under the Obama administration.

In an op-ed Tuesday at TIME, Wheeler wrote that the "abusive practices of the dominant digital platforms are so widespread and have become so embedded that there is no single solution. What is needed is a cocktail of remedies that blends antitrust with ongoing regulatory oversight."

Wheeler argued that "we have reached the point in our digital trajectory where we need a new regulatory agency with digital DNA," adding that "if we're really serious about returning competition and consumer protect to the digital economy, it's simply not enough to look backward and redress a harm that has already occurred."

"We need to couple antitrust with a new vehicle for public-interest oversight to prevent abuses in the first place," he concluded.

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