Picture: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY
Picture: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY

Washington — The US justice department and 11 states filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Alphabet’s Google on Tuesday for allegedly breaking the law in using its market power to fend off rivals.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google, with a search engine is so ubiquitous its name has become a verb, had revenue of $162bn in 2019, more than Hungary.

Coming just days 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.

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 federal lawsuit marks a rare moment of agreement between the Trump administration and progressive Democrats. US senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted on September 10, using the hash tag #BreakUpBigTech, that she wanted “swift, aggressive action”.

The 11 states that joined the lawsuit all have Republican attorneys-general.

More lawsuits could be in the offing as probes by state attorneys-general into Google’s broader businesses are underway, as well as an investigation of its broader digital advertising businesses. A group of attorneys-general led by Texas is expected to file a separate lawsuit focused on digital advertising as soon as November, while a group led by Colorado is contemplating a more expansive lawsuit against Google.

The lawsuit comes more than a year after the US justice department and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began anti-trust investigations into four big tech companies: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

Seven years ago, the FTC settled an anti-trust probe into Google over alleged bias in its search function to favour its products, among other issues. The settlement came over the objections of some FTC staff attorneys.

Google has faced similar legal challenges in other countries.

The EU fined Google $1.7bn in 2019 for stopping websites from using Google’s rivals to find advertisers, $2.6bn in 2017 for favouring its own shopping business in search, and $4.9bn in 2018 for blocking rivals on its wireless Android operating system.

Reuters

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