The US government is suing Google over anticompetitive practices

Google’s UK Headquarters in London, England. | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The Department of Justice is filing an antitrust lawsuit against Google for illegally trying to preserve its search dominance.

After a 14-month long investigation, the United States government filed a landmark lawsuit against Google on Tuesday, arguing that the search giant used unfair practices to preserve its search and search advertising monopoly.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed its lawsuit against Google in a federal court, accusing Google of using money it makes from its dominant position in search to pay other companies to help maintain its lead and block out competitors. Google pays Apple billions each year to be the default browser on Safari, for example, and search comes preloaded on devices using Google’s Android operating system.

The announcement unveils the biggest antitrust case against a tech company since the Microsoft antitrust case in 1998. The Justice Department’s suit also poses a potential existential threat to Google’s business if it breaks off Google’s search engine — which accounts for about $21 billion or more than half its total revenue — from its other lines of business.

The outcome of the case stands to change the way antitrust law is interpreted. Regulators have long disregarded market share dominance for free services like Google’s, which are thought to benefit consumers.

The suit is being filed amid heavy political tension between major tech companies and the US government, with Attorney General William Barr reportedly speeding up the timing of the lawsuit so that it would be filed before the presidential election in November.

President Trump as well as many Republican and Democrat lawmakers have argued with increasing urgency that major tech companies like Google have amassed far too much market power. They say the companies stifle competition and leave consumers with no choice but to use their services when they go online.

However, Trump and some Republicans have expressed another motivation for pursuing antitrust, with the president taking specific aim at tech companies for alleged and unproven “anti-conservative bias” on their platforms. Democrats, on the other hand, have focused on traditional antitrust issues such as market power — along with the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation on these platforms.

In addition to search, Google dominates the market for a number of products, including online advertising, smartphone operating systems, and web browsers. Google search makes make more than 90 percent of search market share and about 80 percent of smartphone shipments globally. Critics say it uses that dominance in each to reinforce its other business lines.

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