State Attorneys General File Another Lawsuit Against Google

Google is now facing a third antitrust suit. Two months after the Justice Department, joined by 46 state attorneys general, filed suits charging anticompetitive behavior, and only one day after 10 other state attorneys general accused the company of using its dominance to control advertising and overcharge publishers, another suit has landed. This suit, made up of a bipartisan group of 30 AGs, accuses the Big Tech giant of illegally manipulating search results to push competitors out of the way.

The New York Times reports the lawsuit states that, “Google downplayed websites that let users search for information in specialized areas like home repair services and travel reviews … [and] the company [used] exclusive deals with phone makers like Apple to prioritize Google’s search service over rivals like Firefox and DuckDuckGo.”

As a result, said the states, Google has achieved “nearly 90 percent market dominance in search and has made it impossible for the smaller companies to grow into formidable competitors.” The suit adds that, “Google has sought to extend that dominance to new venues like home voice assistants … from states including Colorado, Nebraska, New York and Utah.”

The latest lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, and “prosecutors asked the court to combine it with one filed by the Justice Department in October.”

“Our economy is more concentrated than ever, and consumers are squeezed when they are deprived of choices in valued products and services,” said Colorado’s attorney general Phil Weiser. “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.”

Federal Trade Commission former chair William Kovacic said that, “collectively, this will be a comprehensive examination of Google’s ascent to power over the last 25 years.”

NYT notes that, “while Google’s ambition has long been to create a directory for the entire web, over the years, other companies have developed search engines that specialize in a specific area,” such as Yelp and Tripadvisor. Prosecutors say that “Google had methodically downplayed these sites in its own search results while often prominently displaying its own competing reviews or services … prevent[ing] any company from creating a broader grouping of specialized services that could have challenged Google’s search engine.”

Google also stands accused of using “illegal tactics to extend its dominance to new vehicles for online search, including connected cars and home voice assistants.” The states, which began their probe of Google in late summer 2019, worked closely with the Justice Department … interviewed hundreds of witnesses from Google and rival companies and collected more than 45,000 private documents as evidence.”

Engadget reports that, “Google argues its search engine has evolved in response to user feedback, not a desire to disadvantage competitors.” Pointing to rival Bing, it argues that its design “suggests Microsoft has collected similar feedback from its users.”

But its key argument is that a redesign of its search engine would “harm the quality” of the user’s search results. “It would come at the expense of businesses like retailers, restaurants, repair shops, airlines and hotels whose listings in Google help them get discovered and connect directly with customers.”

U.S. States Weighs New Google Suit Over App Store Fees, Bloomberg, 12/18/20