Coalition of US states likely to file new anti-trust lawsuit against Google: Report

The DOJ had accused Google of illegally using its market muscle to hobble rivals. PHOTO: EPA

SAN FRANCISCO (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - A coalition of US states was expected to file an anti-trust lawsuit against Alphabet Inc's Google alleging that it altered the designs of its search engine to the disadvantage of rivals that offer specialised search results, Politico reported on Tuesday (Dec 15).

The lawsuit could be filed as soon as Thursday and was different from the one that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed against Google in October, the report said, citing two people close to the probe.

Google did not comment on the report. A company spokesman referred Reuters to the comments from Mr Kent Walker, Google's senior vice-president for legal affairs, when the DOJ lawsuit was filed.

"People use Google because they choose to, not because they're forced to, or because they can't find alternatives," Mr Walker had said.

The DOJ had accused Google of illegally using its market muscle to hobble rivals, and was joined by 11 other states when the lawsuit was filed. California joined the lawsuit last week.

The department had said Google broke anti-trust law to build and maintain dominance in search and search advertising.

The Politico report said the states pursuing the new lawsuit expect to file it in the same federal court in Washington, DC, as the Justice Department case, where the two can be consolidated. The new allegations focus on specialised search.

Meanwhile, Texas plans to hire Ken Starr, the former independent counsel in the investigation that led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment, to represent the state in its lawsuit against Google, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The state plans to hire Mr Starr's firm, the Lanier Law Firm, and Keller Lenkner if it files a lawsuit stemming from its investigation into the company's role in the online ad market, Texas Attorney-General Ken Paxton said Tuesday in a statement.

Mr Starr, who also served on President Donald Trump's impeachment defence team, would help lead the Texas trial team alongside firm founder Mark Lanier, said the person, who asked not to be named discussing law enforcement investigations. The suit come could within weeks.

Mr Starr, who has also served as a US Court of Appeals judge in Washington and as US solicitor-general, didn't immediately respond to an after-hours request for comment.

Texas, which has been investigating Google for more than a year, is also part of the US Justice Department's October complaint against the company over its alleged violation of anti-trust laws in its agreements to distribute its flagship search engine.

Other states who said they would join the US case include Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska.

In 2019, Mr Paxton announced an inquiry by 50 attorneys-general into the company's adtech operations. He initially served as its leader, although the investigations split into different focus areas.

Mr Paxton, who unsuccessfully sought to help Mr Trump overturn his election loss this month with a lawsuit at the Supreme Court, has been accused by senior aides of potential crimes including bribery, which he denies. Mr Starr resigned as president of Baylor University in 2016 amid accusations of mishandling of on-campus sexual assault allegations.

Earlier this month, Keller Lenkner filed a class action suit against social media company Facebook, which also became the subject of state and federal anti-trust complaints last week.

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