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U.S. Is Said to Plan to File Antitrust Charges Against Google


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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is planning to file antitrust charges against Google as early as this summer, said two people with knowledge of the situation, in what would be one of the biggest antitrust actions by the United States since the late 1990s.

The Justice Department is still investigating the internet company and has been making progress on its case, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details were confidential. The regulators are focused on Google’s dominance in the online advertising industry, and the case will also involve allegations that the company abused its dominant position in online search to harm competitors, the people said.

State attorneys general are likely to file their own antitrust lawsuit against Google or join the Justice Department case sometime this year, said a person with knowledge of the state investigation.

Taken together, such actions against Google, which controls around 90 percent of all web searches globally, would be one of the biggest antitrust cases in the United States since the 1990s when the Justice Department joined 20 states to sue Microsoft. The two sides reached a settlement in 2001.

The moves would also set a benchmark for how regulators and lawmakers proceed with investigations into other large tech companies such as Facebook and Amazon, which the Federal Trade Commission, state attorneys general and Congress are scrutinizing for their market power and corporate behavior. For nearly two decades, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and others have grown with little regulation from American authorities, becoming gateways to internet search, advertising, online communications, digital entertainment and e-commerce.

The plans by the Justice Department and state attorneys general were earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Google said it was continuing to engage in the various investigations. “We don’t have any updates or comments on speculation,” the company said. “Our focus is firmly on providing services that help consumers, support thousands of businesses, and enable increased choice and competition.”

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, who is leading the states’ investigation, pointed to his previous comments that the states hoped the investigation would wrap up by this fall.

The Justice Department began exploring whether to open a case against Google for potential antitrust violations last year. Attorney General William P. Barr has since stated publicly that he would like the department to decide by the summer whether to bring charges.

As part of its inquiry, the Justice Department has spent months interviewing Google’s competitors in the areas of search, advertising technology and news publishers, seeking information about the company’s business practices.

Last year, the states sent a detailed request for information, known as a civil investigative demand, asking Google to answer questions about its advertising technology business. The company and the State of Texas reached a deal earlier this year that would allow the states to gain access to key documents. In March, they discussed options to allow the states to share information with the Justice Department, according to documents obtained through a public records request.

Google captures roughly one-third of every dollar spent in online advertising. Its search engine is the on-ramp to the internet and controls what information users see, while the company owns many of the critical tools and technologies used to advertise online. It also boasts seven businesses with more than one billion users.

Antitrust scrutiny has been one of the prominent issues hanging over Google. But as the investigations have ramped up, the Silicon Valley company has played down the concerns about regulatory actions, noting that it has been investigated before and emphasizing how consumers are satisfied users of its products.

In past investigations by U.S. regulators, Google did not end up facing charges. In 2013, the F.T.C. decided to wrap up a 19-month investigation without charging the company of violating antitrust laws. At the time, some staff members at the agency felt that there was sufficient evidence to press forward with a case, but the commissioners voted unanimously to close the matter.

Cecilia Kang and David McCabe reported from Washington and Daisuke Wakabayashi from Oakland, Calif. Steve Lohr contributed reporting from New York.

www.nytimes.com 2020-05-16 01:19:35

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