Today, the Department of Defense in the United States filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, claiming the company has violated antitrust laws to maintain its monopoly on the search engine and advertising markets. The lawsuit is backed by 11 Attorneys General from the states of Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas.
The Department's announcement labels Google as the "monopoly gatekeeper to the internet", as the company's search engine has accounted for over 90% of searches made in the United States for years. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that Google has used anticompetitive strategies to maintain its hold on the market, including a series of exclusionary agreements that force companies to sell or distribute products with Google preinstalled or set as the default search engine.
Specifically, the complaint mentions the following cases where Google has bought its way into more users' lives:
- Entering into exclusivity agreements that forbid preinstallation of any competing search service.
- 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.
The Department of Justice calls back to 1998, when Microsoft was at the center of a similar investigation, as well as another similar case involving AT&T in 1974. Citing the case against Microsoft, the Department says it recognizes that "high-technology monopolists" are forbidden from entering agreements that force companies to use their products as default, or cut off distribution channels for rivals. The lawsuit against Google follows that same spirit.
Naturally, the lawsuit claims the Google's practices have harmed the quality of products in the field by stifling its competitors. For consumers, this means that things such as user privacy and data protection have been lost or degraded in the process.
Google has already fired back at the Department of Justice in a blog post, saying that it's easy for users to change search engines on any device they use. The company also mentions that Bing is the default search engine on Windows 10, though Bing is nowhere near market dominance in the search space. The company finishes by saying it's "focused on delivering the free services that help Americans every day".
The search giant has been the target of many investigations and fines in the European Union in recent years, but has remained relatively untouched in the United States. It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit develops.