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Google sued by U.S. government over search practices

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The federal government sued Alphabet Inc. on Wednesday over allegations that the company’s Google search service has manipulated search results to harm competitors and in some cases violated antitrust laws. Google reached a settlement with the Justice Department in 2014 when the department said the company did not have to settle for fear that it would oppose it. (The settlement was not published in an official government journal, so it’s now public record.) The class-action suit brought in 2015 by users of Yelp who say they were harmed by Google’s search practices. They’re asking a judge to allow them to pursue damages without the Google consent decree.

What are the allegations?

The DoJ claims that Google doesn’t do enough to distinguish competing services from its own. That, the DoJ says, is anticompetitive. Google has also been accused of telling advertisers it would penalize ads in its main search engine if it did not get more search traffic from rival sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Finally, Google used multiple algorithms in its search engine and directories that gave higher rankings to its own sites and at times deprived those sites of traffic.

What is Google’s response?

In a statement, it called the complaint “baseless.”

What does Yelp say?

Yelp calls the antitrust and copyright claims “unfounded” and says that Google has worked to prevent competitors from moving their own listings to the internet search results page. Yelp asserts that it in “repeated attempts to bring them to Google’s attention.” It also says Google has punished other search engines that had threatened to exploit the company’s practices.

Who else is suing Google?

Through its popular app, Google apps already, the company is accused of manipulating search results to suppress apps that compete with Google Search, such as Gmail and Google Maps. The company says those apps are users’ personal data and that users should be able to switch them without telling Google.

A handful of start-ups and companies are also suing Google, claiming that the company has manipulated its “long tail” of apps to block competitors’ offerings. Google says those firms are violating trademarks and cease-and-desist orders.

Google now has the option to contest the lawsuits in court, which could be a long and expensive process.

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