A bipartisan coalition of dozens of attorneys general on Thursday launched an antitrust lawsuit against Google—a move that followed another filing targeting the tech giant by a smaller group of AGs earlier this week as well as a U.S. Department of Justice case initiated in October.
Attorneys general from 35 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico filed (pdf) the latest suit in U.S. District Court for D.C., accusing Google LLC of anti-competitive conduct in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act. The complaint charges that the company "has methodically undertaken actions to entrench and reinforce its general search services and search-related advertising monopolies by stifling competition."
The new suit follows an investigation into Google that was led by an executive committee made up of the attorneys general of Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. In a statement, Phil Weiser, the Democratic AG of Colorado, explained the goal of their case.
"Our economy is more concentrated than ever, and consumers are squeezed when they are deprived of choices in valued products and services. Google's anti-competitive actions have protected its general search monopolies and excluded rivals, depriving consumers of the benefits of competitive choices, forestalling innovation, and undermining new entry or expansion," Weiser said. "This lawsuit seeks to restore competition."
Today, I announced our 38 AG coalition’s lawsuit against Google for monopolizing the search and search ad market. We will continue to stand up for consumers and innovation. https://t.co/WNL1rLIuWE
— Phil Weiser (@pweiser) December 17, 2020
— Zephyr Teachout (@ZephyrTeachout) December 17, 2020
According to the complaint:
As the gateway to the internet, Google has systematically degraded the ability of other companies to access consumers. In doing so, just as Microsoft improperly maintained its monopoly through conduct directed at Netscape, Google has improperly maintained and extended its search-related monopolies through exclusionary conduct that has harmed consumers, advertisers, and the competitive process itself. Google, moreover, cannot establish business justifications or pro-competitive benefits sufficient to justify its exclusionary conduct in any relevant market.
Today, Google enjoys virtually untrammeled power over internet search traffic that extends to every state, district, and territory in the United States, and, indeed, into nearly every home and onto nearly every smartphone used in the United States.
As New York Attorney General Letitia James, another Democrat, put it: "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."
"Through its illegal conduct," she said, "the company has ensured that hundreds of millions of people turn to Google first when looking for an answer, but it doesn't take a web search to understand that unchecked corporate power shouldn't have disproportionate control over our data and information."
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"For decades now, Google has served as the gatekeeper of the internet and has weaponized our data to kill off competitors and control our decision making—resulting in all of us paying more for the services we use every day," added James, who is also leading an antitrust case filed last week against Facebook.
Efforts to stifle competition, reduce innovation, or cut privacy protections will be met with the full force of my office.
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) December 17, 2020
While Weiser's office said that the complaint he spearheaded with James and 36 other attorneys general "goes beyond the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and other states on October 20," the Washington Post reported that the coalition behind the new suit will "seek to consolidate their lawsuit with the Justice Department's earlier complaint so that the cases would be argued together."
Google pushed back Thursday with a blog post directed at users in which economic policy director Adam Cohen wrote that the states' complaint "suggests we shouldn't have worked to make search better and that we should, in fact, be less useful to you." Cohen claimed that redesigning the search feature as the lawsuit requests "would harm the quality of your search results. And it would come at the expense of businesses like retailers, restaurants, repair shops, airlines and hotels whose listings in Google help them get discovered, and connect directly with customers."
However, the new case was welcomed by Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at Open Markets Institute.
"The state attorneys general make strong allegations against Google for illegally monopolizing several digital advertising markets in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act," she said. "Google's power over the entire ad-tech stack, including the buyer side, the seller side, and the exchange itself, amounts to insider trading and should not be tolerated."
And @openmarkets has been sounding the alarm about monopoly for way longer, along side a small but mighty group of anti-monopolists. The fight has been years in the making, with many more years still lying ahead. But we are at a monumental turning point, and that feels good.
— Sally Hubbard (@Sally_Hubbard) December 17, 2020
"The complaint's allegations of an illegal agreement with Facebook to restrain trade, though heavily redacted, indicate that Google may have violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act, as well," Hubbard added. "While the states seek divestiture, Congress should pass legislation to structurally separate digital platforms, akin to the Glass-Steagall Act, as called for by Chairman David Cicilline's House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust's Big Tech report."
The subcommittee led by Cicilline (D-R.I.) released its report in early October, after a 16-month investigation. As Common Dreams previously reported, the lawmakers involved concluded that there is a "pressing need for legislative action and reform" to address the monopoly power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.