DOJ reportedly exploring antitrust probe of Google

The U.S. Department of Justice is gearing up to investigate antitrust violations by Alphabet Inc.’s subsidiary Google, focusing largely on the company’s search practices, according to a Friday report from The Wall Street Journal.

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The report comes amid renewed public scrutiny on the influence that big tech wields, as well as calls by 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren to break up some of the country’s biggest technology companies, including Amazon, Google and Facebook, which she referred to as “monopolies.”

If the DOJ proceeds with the investigation, it will mark the first major antitrust case against a big tech company since President Trump took office.

It’s unclear whether the DOJ has contacted Google. A spokesperson for the DOJ declined to comment. The FTC and Google did not immediately respond to FOX Business’ request for comment.

Google has faced questions about potential antitrust violations in the past.

The Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust authority with the DOJ, previously conducted a broad investigation of Google, looking into its advertising practices and influence in the online ad industry, but closed it in 2013 when the company agreed to voluntarily change some of its business practices, including agreeing to give online advertisers more flexibility to manage ad campaigns on Google, as well as its rival ad platforms.

In March, European Union regulators fined Google $1.7 billion for abusing its market dominance by preventing its rivals from placing online search advertisers,; in total, the EU has fined Google about $10 billion.

In a statement, the EU’s top antitrust watchdog, Margrethe Vestager, said Google cemented itself as a powerhouse in the online search industry -- then proceeded to shield itself from competition by imposing restrictive contracts with third-party websites that blocked other companies from placing their search adverts on those websites between 2006 and 2016.

“This is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” she said at the time.

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The commission found that Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc. blocked competition by inserting exclusivity clauses into its contracts with third-party websites beginning in 2006, prohibiting publishers from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages.

As of 2009, Google began to replace those clauses with a so-called premium placement clause, requiring websites to save the most visible and clicked on parts of the websites’ search results pages for Google