Premature Regulation: DOJ to File Antitrust Charges Against Google

Posted on September 4, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Google, Mobile, Android with 18 Comments

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.

Tagged with

Join the discussion!


Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Comments (18)

18 responses to “Premature Regulation: DOJ to File Antitrust Charges Against Google”

  1. Paul Thurrott

    There's nothing objectionable or incorrect in this article, and there's certainly no political bias. No need to comment on this or the article if that's all you care about.

  2. jchampeau

    "Premature Regulation" earns a spot on the top 10 list of best Paul Thurrott headlines of all time.

  3. Markus Mobius

    The advertising dimension was a complete sideshow in the EU investigation and there was a fine for past not current behavior. The search remedies in the EU were also fairly mild.

    The EU's antitrust investigation are traditionally much harsher than the US. Moreover, Google has a 90+ market share in the EU while there is more competition from Bing and Amazon in the US.

    So I would be surprised if there is any big case against Google in the US. There is an anti-tech backlash and this case is mostly political theater.

  4. scovious

    The rampant actions of Google have been plainly anti-competitive for years, so perhaps the strong public opinion against their App Store or advertising domination have finally reached a breaking point. I've lost count of all the different inquiries, legal cases and complaints from their partners/competitors. From an outsider's perspective, if the US courts found Google guilty before the EU courts did, that would give the USA a much needed moral win on the global stage.

    • nbplopes

      In reply to scovious:

      Not really. There is little moral in speeding up the justice system and a weak resolution for self election objectives. That is called corruption of the democratic principles.

  5. illuminated

    If lawyers say it is too early then it must be too early. It would be crazy to lose just because somebody set unrealistic deadline. Maybe appearing tough on Google is more important than doing something meaningful.

  6. jimchamplin

    I think at this point Dan Fielding from Night Court could get a conviction against El Goog. Not sure if moving up the schedule is going to matter that much.

    • wright_is

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      It does if it means they have to cut corners on the evidence gathering and wording on the docket isn't watertight.

      If they screw it up now, all the work will have been for nothing.

      That is what I hate about US politics especially, although the UK isn't much better. It is irrelevant whether the right thing is done, the only thing that matters is who gets credit, even if they risk screwing it up by rushing it through.

  7. sykeward

    I think it's gross that seemingly every non-political topic/opinion/hobby/method of cooking bacon has been politicized to the core. But if you dare report anything that demonstrates political intrusion into something that should be settled (like that bacon is best cooked in the oven) the braying from people that results is like you physically jabbed them with a sharp stick. I'm sorry, Paul, that it's something you have to deal with so directly now.

    It's like some kind of horrible feedback loop with no escape because everything, including attempts by people to avoid politics, is viewed as a political statement. Pandemic of the mind.

  8. melinau

    Trump's apparent antipathy to Big Tech has always seemed odd to me given that most of the owners are also self-styled Rightist 'Libertarians'. A cynic might suppose the haste is intended to show Trump fighting 'Big Tech' while actually undermining the case andor minimising punishment should that happen.