“As the gateway to the internet, Google has systematically degraded the ability of other companies to access consumers,” the lawsuit states. “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. Google, moreover, cannot establish business justifications or pro-competitive benefits sufficient to justify its exclusionary conduct in any relevant market.”
This is the third antitrust lawsuit filed by state and federal officials in recent months. On Wednesday, a group of 10 states, led by Texas, sued Google over its advertising practices. The Justice Department sued Google in October, claiming that it unfairly entered pacts to ensure that its search engine was the default on various devices.
The latest lawsuit was led by Phil Weiser, the attorney general of Colorado, and includes Alaska, Arizona Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. Not on the list is California, where Google is based.
In the lawsuit (read it here), the attorneys general accuse Google of trying to unfairly use restrictive contracts to ensure that it remains dominant in new forms of search, like those in internet connected cars and voice assistants. They also claim that Google limits its search advertising marketing tool, SA360, to disadvantage competitors.
The state officials also claim that Google has restricted specialized search engines, like those offered by travel sites like Kayak and Orbitz. The lawsuit claims that these specialized search engines are prohibited from “prominently displaying their own brand name or the links that would bring consumers to the specialized vertical providers’ own websites, preventing these specialized vertical providers from establishing or stewarding customer relationships.”
“In a more competitive market, Google’s search-related monopolies could be challenged or even replaced by new forms of information discovery,” the lawsuit states. “Rival general search engines would be able to create better services for consumers, including improved privacy, advertising-free search, and stronger partnerships with specialized vertical providers that can offer the ability to sell a service directly (like an airline ticket) or better ways to find, compare, and buy services (like those provided by plumbers or electricians). More competitive general search engines also could offer better advertising and lower prices to advertisers (and lower prices would be expected to flow through to consumers). But Google’s actions have blocked and burdened the current and emerging general search technology.”
In a lengthy rebuttal to the lawsuit, Google’s director of economic policy, Adam Cohen, argued that the lawsuit takes aim at improvements they have made to the search engine with results that highlight more links directly to businesses than in the past.
“This lawsuit demands changes to the design of Google Search, requiring us to prominently feature online middlemen in place of direct connections to businesses,” Cohen wrote. He cited Amazon, Expedia, Tripadvisor as rivals in search that are “just a click away.”
He also said that other regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission and courts in other countries, have rejected similar antitrust claims, concluding that they were legitimate product improvements.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. It seeks, among other things, prohibitions on agreements that limit search engine rivals, as well as potential structural remedies, in which parts of the company would have to be separated or sold off.
In a statement, Weiser said that 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.”
New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, who was on the executive committee spearheading the lawsuit, said in a statement, “Through its illegal conduct, the company has ensured that hundreds of millions of people turn to Google first when looking for an answer, but it doesn’t take a web search to understand that unchecked corporate power shouldn’t have disproportionate control over our data and information.”
The Justice Department said that the attorneys general who filed Thursday’s lawsuit have asked that it be consolidated with the federal case.
Tech giants are facing antitrust actions on a number of fronts. Earlier this month, James led 48 states in filing a lawsuit against Facebook over its conduct, while the Federal Trade Commission brought its own action against the social media platform.
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