DOJ Files Complaint Against Google Over Antitrust Violations

By Katherine Goelz 

On October 20, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), along with eleven state Attorneys General, filed a complaint against Google, charging the company with maintaining monopolies in both search services and search advertising under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2. The complaint alleges that Google’s anticompetitive practices hurt consumers, rival companies, and advertisers.  

The complaint details Google’s overall market dominance in search services, noting that Google pays billions of dollars annually to distributors to secure “exclusionary agreements.” Distributors mentioned in the document include manufacturers such as Apple, LG, Motorola, and Samsung, U.S. mobile carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, and browser developers such as Mozilla, the creators of the Firefox search engine. 

One primary contention in the action is that these agreements seek to “secure default status” for Google’s “general search engine,” and that by securing these default general engine agreements, the Google search engine becomes the “default” search engine, with “de facto exclusivity.” According to the complaint, Google, by its use of these exclusionary agreements, has been able to control nearly 90% of all general search queries and 95% of queries on mobile devices. 

Search dominance drives search advertising revenue for Google, but the complaint also alleges that “Google’s anticompetitive practices . . . deny rivals scale to compete effectively.” The complaint alleges that Google’s search services are so effective because its algorithms learn which results and advertisements best respond to user queries; the massive amount of data available to Google’s algorithms is simply unavailable to other companies as the search data and scale are locked into the Google ecosystem through exclusionary agreements. 

Although many distributors are named in the complaint, specific attention is aimed at Apple, which is mentioned fifty-six times in the document. This particular focus results from Apple’s own market dominance, with nearly 60% of mobile-device usage of Apple’s iOS mobile platform. The complaint alleges that Google was able to gain such an overwhelming share of browser usage by contracting with Apple to be the default search engine for Apple’s Safari web browser. The agreements mentioned in the complaint have an additional benefit to distributors, such as Apple, because Google has revenue sharing-agreements with these distributors.  While the complaint details the anticompetitive impact of Google’s business model, it provides few details regarding the impact this filing may have on small business owners, many of whom rely upon Google’s search services and business advertising, as well as Google’s suite of business products, called Google Workspace. 

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