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The Google antitrust lawsuit: Five key takeaways

By Dean DeChiaro, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON — The lawsuit filed by the Justice Department against Google on Tuesday marks the first major antitrust enforcement case against a technology company since a case against Microsoft began in 1998 and ended in a settlement with the government in 2002. The Justice Department is accusing Google of using anti-competitive business practices to maintain monopolies over its competitors in the online search and advertising industry, and Google is vowing to fight back, arguing that its success does not mean it did anything wrong.

Here are five key takeaways from the action:

1. The Justice Department lawsuit has bipartisan support in Congress

Unlike so many high-profile actions undertaken by President Donald Trump's Justice Department in the past four years, the Google lawsuit quickly won the support of Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, including key antitrust hawks.

Some of the loudest praise came from Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who investigated Google when he was the Show-Me State's attorney general. Hawley said the case could be the most significant antitrust suit "in a generation" and that if the government wins, it would be even more significant than the Microsoft case "because Google is really a more powerful company than Microsoft was even at the height of Microsoft's power."

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the chairman of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, called the lawsuit "long overdue." Cicilline recently wrapped up a 16-month investigation of Google and other large technology companies and has leveled accusations similar to the Justice Department's. He urged the department to probe other areas of Google's business empire, including its Maps service, Chrome browser and YouTube video platform.

 

Both lawmakers have said they plan to pursue antitrust legislation targeting Big Tech companies and believe Congress has an ongoing role to play on antitrust issues while the Justice Department proceeds with its case against Google.

2. There's disagreement over the strength of the Justice Department's case

Depending who you ask, the Justice Department's lawsuit is either a thin case that fails to prove that Google's market dominance hurts consumers, or it's a strong one that demonstrates that Google stifles competition and innovation by using exclusionary business tactics to ensure that its search engine is the default feature on millions of mobile devices in the United States.

Mark Jamison, a visiting antitrust scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, believes the Justice Department faces an uphill battle to prove that Google's business practices hurt consumers "because everyone who participates with Google — the advertisers, the people who use search — is doing that willingly, they're doing that voluntarily."

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