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Colorado leads coalition of states, territories in federal antitrust lawsuit against Google

Suit alleges Google leads monopolies on search engine, search advertising
google antitrust lawsuit
Posted at 1:32 PM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 15:38:33-05

DENVER – Colorado and a coalition of 38 attorneys general on Thursday filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google – the third filed against the massive tech company over the past three months.

The latest lawsuit argues that Google has developed and maintained a monopoly over search engines and search engine advertising through exclusive contracts and other anticompetitive practices, which the attorneys general say harms both users whose data is being compiled and sold by Google, search engine competitors, and advertisers who do not have a competitive marketplace and thus pay higher prices that are often passed on to consumers.

The lawsuit is much in line with a similar antitrust suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and 11 other attorneys general in October.

Weiser and the attorneys general for Iowa, Nebraska and Tennessee said their suit expands on the DOJ suit in three ways: It looks to emerging technology markets, like car connectivity and voice assistants, as another place that Google has tried to corner the search engine marketplace; it claims that Google undermined the success of specialized search engines and advertisers who use them; and that it uses its own advertising tool, Search Advertising 360, to limit its operability with competitors and thereby puts advertisers who use the tool at a disadvantage.

Those particularly affected by Google’s actions, according to the suit, include Microsoft’s Bing search engine and travel and home improvement sites that Weiser said faced “artificial restrictions” because of Google’s search engine and search engine advertising methods and products.

The suit also says that Google’s agreements with phone providers and manufacturers to have its search engine built into the products harms competitors and users looking for better search options and functionality.

Weiser and the other attorneys general allege “anticompetitive conduct” in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act – the same section the landmark Microsoft antitrust case was brought under in 1998.

“As the gateway to the internet, Google has systematically degraded the ability of other companies to access consumers. In doing so, just as Microsoft improperly maintained its monopoly through conduct directed at Netscape, Google has improperly maintained and extended its search-related monopolies through exclusionary conduct that has harmed consumers, advertisers, and the competitive process itself,” the suit says. “Google, moreover, cannot establish business justifications or procompetitive benefits sufficient to justify its exclusionary conduct in any relevant market.”

The lawsuit says that Google is working on many fronts to maintain monopolies surrounding its search and advertising products.

As such, according to the suit, Google is limiting a competitive marketplace and users’ freedom to use other options – harming both advertisers and consumers.

The attorneys general said during the news conference and wrote in the complaint that the “exclusionary tactics” the company has used to create its monopolies are being used by the company to move into new technology markets.

Weiser and the other attorneys general who spoke about the lawsuit at a news conference Thursday said they were seeking to have their suit – which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia – consolidated with the Justice Department’s lawsuit.

“Our economy is more concentrated than ever, and consumers are squeezed when they are deprived of choices in valued products and services. Google’s anticompetitive actions have protected its general search monopolies and excluded rivals, depriving consumers of the benefits of competitive choices, forestalling innovation, and undermining new entry or expansion,” Weiser said in a statement. “This lawsuit seeks to restore competition.”

Weiser and his office, as well as attorneys general from Arizona, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah comprised the executive committee that led the investigation, which has been underway since last fall.

The filing of the suit comes a day after Texas led nine other states in another antitrust suit against Google over advertising technologies.

The states are asking for an array of remedies, including for a judge to stop Google’s alleged monopolistic practices, undo its gained advantages and potentially more, including “any relief, as needed, to cure any anticompetitive harm from Google’s conduct, prevent any future harm, and undo the continuing effects of past harm to competition.”

In response to the lawsuit, Google Director of Economic Policy Adam Cohen posted on the company’s blog about changes made to its search functions over the years and claimed the suit was trying only to undo its work: “It suggests we shouldn't have worked to make Search better and that we should, in fact, be less useful to you,” Cohen wrote.

“We know that scrutiny of big companies is important and we’re prepared to answer questions and work through the issues. But this lawsuit seeks to redesign Search in ways that would deprive Americans of helpful information and hurt businesses’ ability to connect directly with customers,” Cohen added later in the post. “We look forward to making that case in court, while remaining focused on delivering a high-quality search experience for our users.”

Thursday’s new filing against Google comes just over a week after Colorado and a similar coalition of states filed an antitrust law against Facebook alleging it had created a monopoly on social media companies by buying up competitors as they became threats to the company.