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Google hit with its third antitrust lawsuit since October

A group of 38 states and territories took part in the lawsuit, which claims Google illegally maintained a monopoly in general search and search advertising.
Image: FILE PHOTO: The Google name is displayed outside the company's office in London, Britain
Google's office in London in 2018.Toby Melville / Reuters file

Google now faces its third government antitrust lawsuit in less than two months, this time from a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general.

A group of 38 states and territories took part in the lawsuit, which claims Google illegally maintained a monopoly in general search and search advertising through anticompetitive conduct and contracts. Members of the executive committee leading the states included Arizona, Colorado Iowa, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said at a press conference Thursday the group would file a motion to consolidate the case with the Justice Department’s recent lawsuit against Google.

Similar to the Justice Department’s lawsuit filed with 11 Republican state AGs in October, the new complaint tackles Google’s alleged monopoly in online search. But the new suit focuses on different mechanisms that the AGs claim Google used to illegally maintain its monopoly power.

The DOJ lawsuit alleges Google’s used exclusionary contracts to prevent competitors from gaining access to key distribution channels and ensure its continued monopoly in online search.

A press release announcing the new states lawsuit describes Google’s actions as a “multi-pronged effort to maintain its monopolies.”

Weiser said at the press conference the new suit goes beyond the DOJ’s by looking at how Google allegedly used exclusionary contracts to tie up emerging distribution channels that consumers use to access search engines, like smart speakers.

The lawsuit also alleges that Google’s contracts with device makers and distributors to be the default search provider are anticompetitive, solidifying Google’s monopoly. Google’s contracts have secured its search engine default placement on 80% of web browsers, according to the complaint, which says that has contributed to “artificial barriers” preventing competitors from reaching consumers. Google has a long-standing agreement with Apple, for example, to be the default search provider on its products.

Google also offers revenue share agreements with other mobile manufacturers well as carriers like AT&TVerizon and T-Mobile, the complaint says. In exchange, it alleges, those partners must agree to preload Google’s mobile apps and make them the default search engine on the devices. Those agreements often prevent partners from pre-installing other general search engines or browsers like Microsoft’s Bing or DuckDuckGo, according to the complaint.

A group of ten Republican AGs sued Google on Wednesday, targeting its advertising technology business and an allegedly illegal deal with Facebook.

Following Thursday’s filing, Wall Street Journal owner News Corp, which has long criticized Google’s practices, said in a statement it was “stunned” by the evidence alleged in the complaint.

“To be clear, the core charge is that publishers all over the country have been routinely ripped off, which is bad news for freedom of the press, journalism and an informed society,” News Corp wrote.

Luther Lowe, senior vice president of public policy at Yelp and one of Google’s most enduring critics over its search practices, called Thursday’s lawsuit “arguably more significant than previous lawsuits in that it strikes at the foundation of Google’s dominance: its search results.”

The new lawsuit against Google comes about a week after many of the same states sued Facebook in a coalition of 48 attorneys general led by New York’s Letitia James. The states, and a separate complaint by the Federal Trade Commission, claimed Facebook had unlawfully maintained monopoly power in personal social networking services in part by acquiring potential competitors before they grew into larger threats.

In a statement following the DOJ’s initial lawsuit against Google, several of the states said that if they filed their own complaint, they would seek to consolidate it with the existing lawsuit.