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World

US gov’t hits Google with anti-trust lawsuit

San Francisco / The United States Department of Justice and 11 states’ attorneys general on Tuesday filed a landmark civil anti-trust lawsuit against Google, alleging anti-competitive and exclusionary practices by the American technology giant in the search and search advertising markets.

The suit filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia (Washington DC) takes aim at a company that thoroughly dominates the Internet search market across different platforms, accounting for 80 percent of desktop searches and 90 percent of mobile searches.

Announced after a more than year-long investigation, the suit accuses the company founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page and currently run by Indian-born Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai of abusing its monopoly power by unlawfully preventing competitors (including Yahoo, Microsoft Bing and DuckDuckGo) from accessing the main search distribution channels.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a telephone press conference that the lawsuit alleges that Google maintains its role as monopoly gatekeeper for Internet users and advertisers worldwide through exclusivity agreements that harm its competitors.

Among other arrangements, he cited the payment of billions of dollars to Apple to make Google the default search engine on iPhones and the use of exclusivity agreements to block the pre-installation of any rival search service on mobile devices and computers worldwide.

That Alphabet Inc. unit, which has a market value of around $1 trillion and together with Facebook commands a majority of the US Internet advertising market, has used those practices to thwart innovation and prevent the creation of “new Googles,” Rosen said.

The legal battle could drag on for years given the massive resources of Google, which was founded in Silicon Valley in 1998 and has been instrumental in the development of the global Internet market.

Google, for its part, said the lawsuit is “deeply flawed” and based on “dubious anti-trust arguments.”

In a blog post by Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, the company defended its marketing strategy as no different than what a cereal brand might use to secure premium shelf space in a supermarket.

In Google’s case, it negotiates agreements with companies in the mobile market like Apple, AT&T and Verizon and the desktop operating system market (primarily Microsoft) to obtain “eye-level shelf space,” said Walker, who added that “our competitors are readily available too, if you want to use them.”

“People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives,” Walker wrote. “This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

The company said the lawsuit also erroneously claims that Google only competes with other general search engines even though people now use a range of different websites to look for information or products or services to buy: Twitter, Kayak, Expedia, OpenTable, Instagram, Pinterest and Amazon.

In recent years, tech giants have come under criticism from different national governments and regional blocs such as the European Union due to their out-sized market power, bloated profits and low tax bills.

Other technology and Internet conglomerates such as Facebook, Apple and Amazon also are coming under scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers concerned about possible instances of abuse of power.

Google has been closely watched by US authorities since its transformation into a tech giant.

That country’s Federal Trade Commission, which like the US Justice Department has the authority to handle anti-trust cases, investigated Google over alleged search bias nearly a decade ago but eventually decided in early 2013 to drop the case due to insufficient evidence. (October 20, 2020, EFE/PracticaEspañol)

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