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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Feds File Antitrust Suit Against Google

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Federal antitrust lawyers have filed a lawsuit against Google on antitrust grounds.

The Justice Department alleged that Google has used its dominant position in online search to drive traffic to companies that carry its advertising and sell advertisements on Google.

The Justice Department filed the case on Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit accuses Google of “conspiring” with other firms to drive up the value of advertising and other business to one another, according to documents filed by the department.

The officials were particularly angry about a practice called “search bias,” which they said essentially blocked competitors from using information provided to Google by other companies. Google said its practice was legal.

The lawsuit could deal a blow to one of the pillars of Google’s business, which is the AdSense program. The program lets advertisers pay to place their ads on websites that have entered into a contract with Google.

The complaint asserted that Google’s algorithm excluded search results from sites that did not have AdSense deals with Google and included pages where competing search providers provided results. The complaint called Google’s policies “an anti-competitive restraint on trade.”

“The complaint is an important step towards restoring competition to the online advertising market,” said Makan Delrahim, the antitrust chief, in a statement. “Now Google must face the consequences of its misconduct, and we look forward to explaining why the government believes Google is a threat to the integrity of the marketplace and to the American public.”

Mr. Delrahim and Jessica Rich, the deputy assistant attorney general, have criticized Google in private hearings before Congress as well.

“As the DOJ demonstrated today, the company is not just abusing its dominant position in the online search market, but has long been concerned with monopolizing other forms of online commerce and inflicting harm on consumers,” said Edward Black, the president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a digital advocacy group.

“Anti-competitive conduct by a company as powerful as Google will continue to harm all consumers unless the government breaks up the problem,” Mr. Black said.

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, said the company would “vigorously defend” its practices.

“The company has fought for and won many important consumer benefits,” Mr. Schmidt said in a statement. “We’ll take this fight to court, because we’re confident that consumers are better off when competition is healthy and robust.”

Google has its defenders in the White House.

President Trump cited Google while ranting about the media at a rally in Montana this summer.

“For instance, you go to Google, you don’t even have to put it in, and it comes up,” Mr. Trump said. “And I say Google, I don’t say Google, do you have news? They have so much information, and it’s so deeply embedded in the internet, where you can’t escape it.”

Mr. Trump also pointed to “no commercials, right? They have no commercials,” he said. “That’s what you pay for, and they search all day long.”

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