The U.S. Department of Justice has been ordered by Attorney General William Barr to file antitrust charges against Google as soon as this month, despite warnings from the over 40 lawyers developing the case that they need more time. That’s according to a new report in The New York Times, which cites several sources.
Here’s what’s happening: Lawyers at the DOJ feel that they have a “strong” antitrust case against Google, but they would like several more months to develop the case. But with the U.S. election in just two months, there’s a chance that the current administration, and Mr. Barr, will be pushed out and that the next administration will get credit for the Google case. So Barr wants to make sure it’s filed well before the election.
Interestingly, the Google case has broad bipartisan support, with all 50 U.S. states supporting it; some states may ultimately join the DOJ in its case, while others may go after Google independently or in partnership with a group of states.
The case centers on two commingled aspects of Google’s business: Its dominance of both online search and online advertising. Google controls over 90 percent of online searches and is extending its monopoly on mobile via Android and a deal with Apple. Google also earns $1 out of every $3 made via advertising online, and the DOJ has found “powerful evidence” of anticompetitive practices aimed at keeping both businesses dominant.
With regard to the timing, the lawyers have raised a number of issues. There are disagreements about how broad the complaint should be, what Google should be forced to do to resolve its illegal business practices, and even general tactics. Several lawyers said they would not sign an early filing against Google, and several have already left the case in protest of the “arbitrary” schedule change.
Aside from the obvious partisan nature of the schedule change, the bigger issue is that filing early could harm the government’s case and strengthen Google’s defense. And many of the lawyers involved with the case think it’s far too important—a so-called “case of the century,” akin to the breakup of Standard Oil—to screw it up. They’re also leery of the U.S. falling further behind the EU in antitrust enforcement.
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