Today marks a new chapter in the long history of US enforcement of antitrust law. The filing of this lawsuit is recognition that digital platforms, namely Google, have used illegal and improper means to maintain their dominance.
Over many years, Google has exercised tremendous control over the marketplace of online search. This complaint makes a strong case for how Google manipulated the online search market by paying billions to secure default positions on browsers and mobile handsets to exclude rivals, by denying interoperability to challengers, and by preferencing its own products and services in search results.
The DOJ did not sue Google because it has grown large or successful. Rather, the investigation yielded sufficient evidence to show Google has violated US antitrust law — a set of rules that apply to everyone, and are designed to make sure all of us benefit from free markets and fair competition.
The ideal outcome of this lawsuit is the restoration of competition and safer, more innovative choices for consumers in the online search market. We know that Google’s profit motive influences the content they deliver. Google searches often lead people to Google’s own goods and services, to those who pay Google for our attention, and down rabbit holes of misinformation, hate, and extremism. All of these “results” bolster time spent on the platforms and Google’s revenues. Surely, other search engines, if not excluded from the market, could design algorithms that were safer and more consistent with society’s values.
Today’s filing is an important first step in enforcing existing laws governing Google’s improper past conduct. But this journey is not over; the legal process could take many years to resolve, and other concerns will need to be addressed. For example, Google also used its online search dominance to develop another illegal monopoly in the digital advertising market. Americans deserve and expect that Google will be held accountable for all of its anti-competitive and otherwise harmful conduct as well as prevented from engaging in similar abuses in the future.
Consumers, competition, our economy, and our democracy have already paid too high a price for what are seen as “free” services. Undoubtedly, Google has provided valuable, innovative services that have become essential to everyone’s lives, creating the foundation for how we live, work, and play. And like other necessities that are embedded in our lives — power, water, cars — technology companies should be held to the highest standards. However, if left unchecked, Google’s practices will continue to create serious consequences for advertisers, publishers, foreclosed technological rivals, and the public.
To that end, and alongside this case, we call for federal attention toward the ad-tech stack and support for state-level antitrust cases directed at other aspects of Google’s sprawling businesses. Because antitrust action alone will not restore competition to these markets, Congress should also continue to pursue the development of new laws and rules.