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Google hit with lawsuit by US Justice Department over search dominance

Following reports and rumors for several weeks, the US Justice Department has officially announced an antitrust lawsuit against Google and its search dominance in the United States. The suit is supported by 11 States.

The Wall Street Journal first reported this lawsuit earlier this morning, and in a briefing to the media today the Justice Department confirmed the suit and a few of its details. The DOJ is suing Google because the company is “maintaining a monopoly” through practices that are harmful to competition and preventing competing products from gaining users.

Specifically, the DOJ takes issue with Google paying browsers, mobile phone makers, and carriers to retain its status as the default search engine on mobile devices and various browsers. For example, Google reportedly pays billions to remain Apple’s default search provider on iOS devices.

The suit further takes issue with Google Search being pre-loaded on Android smartphones. This is similar to what we’ve seen with cases against Google in the EU. The DOJ specifically brings up that Google prevents mobile phone makers from removing Google’s search app from their devices to pre-load other search apps. This is something we can clearly see, too, as the Microsoft Surface Duo comes pre-loaded with Google Search instead of Bing.

The DOJ specifically calls out four ways Google is engaging in monopolistic practices in Search:

  • Entering into exclusivity agreements that forbid preinstallation of any competing search
  • Entering into tying and other arrangements that force preinstallation of its search
    applications in prime locations on mobile devices and make them undeletable, regardless
    of consumer preference.
  • Entering into long-term agreements with Apple that require Google to be the default –
    and de facto exclusive – general search engine on Apple’s popular Safari browser and
    other Apple search tools.
  • Generally using monopoly profits to buy preferential treatment for its search engine on devices, web browsers, and other search access points, creating a continuous and self-
    reinforcing cycle of monopolization.

Through this antitrust lawsuit against Google, the DOJ is asking the court to “break Google’s grip” on search distribution. The case is only being announced today, of course, so it’s unclear what damages the DOJ will seek should the court rule against Google. Rumors over the past few weeks have speculated measures including Google being forced to sell the Chrome browser or a break up of Google’s ads business, but none of that is set in stone yet. During the call, the DOJ only mentioned that damages sought would be relative to the years Google has kept it monopolistic practices.

Google quickly responded to the suit on Twitter, calling the allegations “deeply flawed” and once again pointing out that consumers choose to use Google Search over other options.

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