US Justice Department hits Google with biggest antitrust lawsuit in two decades

WASHINGTON • The United States Justice Department and 11 states filed an antitrust lawsuit against Alphabet's Google yesterday for allegedly breaking the law in using its market power to fend off rivals, and called for action.

The lawsuit marks the biggest anti trust case in a generation, comparable to the lawsuit against Microsoft filed in 1998, and the 1974 case against AT&T which led to the break-up of the Bell System.

The lawsuit claims that Google acted unlawfully to maintain its position in search and search advertising on the Internet. It states that "absent a court order, Google will continue executing its anti-competitive strategy, crippling the competitive process, reducing consumer choice, and stifling innovation".

"Google is now the unchallenged gateway to the Internet for billions of users worldwide...

"For the sake of American consumers, advertisers and all companies now reliant on the Internet economy, the time has come to stop Google's anti-competitive conduct and restore competition."

When asked on a conference call what specific action should be taken, a Justice Department official said: "Nothing is off the table."

Google, whose search engine is so ubiquitous that its name has become a verb, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company had revenue of US$162 billion (S$219.75 billion) last year, more than the nation of Hungary.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley, a vociferous Google critic, accused the company of keeping power through "illegal means" and called the lawsuit "the most important anti trust case in a generation".

The Microsoft lawsuit was credited with clearing the way for the explosive growth of the Internet since the antitrust scrutiny prevented the company from attempting to thwart competitors.

Yesterday's federal lawsuit marks a rare moment of agreement between the Trump administration and progressive Democrats.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted on Sept 10, using the hash tag #BreakUpBigTech, that she wanted "swift, aggressive action".

Coming just weeks before the US presidential election, the filing's timing could be seen as a political gesture since it fulfils a promise made by President Donald Trump to his supporters to hold certain companies to account for allegedly stifling conservative voices.

More lawsuits could be in the offing, since probes by state attorneys-general into Google's broader businesses are under way, as well as an investigation of its broader digital advertising businesses.

Yesterday's lawsuit comes more than a year after the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission began antitrust investigations into four big tech companies: Amazon.com, Apple, Facebook and Google.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2020, with the headline 'US Justice Department hits Google with biggest antitrust lawsuit in two decades'. Print Edition | Subscribe