Google hit by antitrust lawsuit from more than 30 states over alleged search monopoly


    Google faces more antitrust woes.

    Angela Lang/CNET

    A bipartisan coalition of 38 states and territories on Thursday filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, alleging the tech giant holds a monopoly in general search, the heart of its consumer tech business. The complaint is the third antitrust suit filed against the Silicon Valley giant in a matter of weeks, escalating Google’s battle with state and federal prosecutors over the company’s dominance.

    The lawsuit alleges the tech giant harmed competitors with its presentation of search results, favoring its own services over those of rivals. The complaint also claims Google asserted its dominance to become the default search engine in not only in web browsers and smartphones, but also newer technologies like smart speakers and connected cars, through the company’s voice assistant feature.

    “Google, one of the largest companies in the world, has methodically undertaken actions to entrench and reinforce its general search services and search-related advertising monopolies by stifling competition,” the complaint reads. “As the gateway to the internet, Google has systematically degraded the ability of other companies to access consumers.” 

    The investigation was led by Colorado and Nebraska, and the coalition of states includes Arizona, Iowa, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.

    Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The tech giant’s iconic search engine is the most-visited website on the internet. The company processes around 90% of all online searches in the US. That stranglehold is the foundation of Google’s massive advertising business, which generates almost all of the company’s $160 billion in annual sales. Google has been accused of hurting competitors by giving priority in its search results to its own products, like shopping ads or local business listings, over the listings of rivals. Critics also complain the tech giant takes content from publishers and other websites and uses it in prepared answers directly in search results, rather than simply providing a list of links that send users to other sites. 

    The lawsuit is the third major antitrust complaint Google has faced in weeks. It comes a day after a separate case was filed by another coalition of states led by Texas AG Ken Paxton. That complaint targets Google’s massive online advertising operation, the cornerstone of its business. The suit accuses the tech giant of harming competitors by engaging in “false, deceptive, or misleading acts” while operating its buy and sell auction system for digital ads.

    In October, the US Department of Justice filed a landmark lawsuit against Google, claiming the tech giant has maintained monopolies in search and search advertising. The DOJ alleged Google broke antitrust law by cutting deals with phone makers, such as Apple and Samsung, to be the default search engine on their devices, a move that boxed out competitors. The agency also accused Google of taking advantage of the dominance of its Android operating system to pressure device makers into preloading its search app and other services on phones powered by the software.

    The increased spotlight on Google comes as tech giants face a reckoning over their scale and influence. Legislators and regulators are concerned about how their power might ultimately harm consumers, especially by choking off competition from smaller players in Silicon Valley. 

    In October, the US House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee released a scathing 449-page report on Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, hammering the tech giants on their allegedly anticompetitive practices. The report was the culmination of a more than yearlong investigation led by Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline. The probe reached a crescendo in July when the CEOs from the four companies appeared at a joint hearing via video chat. 

    Google has come under antitrust scrutiny in the past. In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission wrapped up a two-year investigation into Google after allegations of biased search results. The agency, however, concluded that Google hadn’t violated antitrust laws. 

    This is a developing story…

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