Google faces more antitrust scrutiny as 38 state attorneys general file new lawsuit

AGs are requesting to consolidate their lawsuit with the DOJ's Oct. 20 complaint

A bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from 38 states, led by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, on Thursday filed a new civil antitrust lawsuit against Google.

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The suit comes after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and eight other attorneys general filed an antitrust complaint against the company on Wednesday.

"The case we filed today builds on and goes beyond the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on Oct. 20. Like the DOJ suit, we focus on Google's improper maintenance and its monopoly power in general search and search advertising," Weiser said during a Thursday press call in reference to a lawsuit that the DOJ recently brought against Google over allegations of dominance in online search and advertising markets.

The attorneys general are requesting to consolidate their lawsuit with the DOJ's.

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Google Director of Economic Policy Adam Cohen responded to Thursday's announcement in a blog post defending its search product. The company also said the lawsuit demands that Google make changes to Search that would "prominently feature online middlemen in place of direct connections to businesses" and touted the fact that Google connects users with more than 120 million global businesses.

"We know that scrutiny of big companies is important and we’re prepared to answer questions and work through the issues. But this lawsuit seeks to redesign Search in ways that would deprive Americans of helpful information and hurt businesses’ ability to connect directly with customers. We look forward to making that case in court..." Cohen wrote.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook last week with 48 other AGs, accused Google of using "its dominance to illegally squash competitors, monitor nearly every aspect of our digital lives, and profit to the tune of billions" in a Thursday statement.

Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Prominent artificial intelligence scholar Timnit Gebru helped improve Google's public image as a company that elevates Black computer scientists and questions harmful uses of AI technology. (AP Photo/Mar

"Through its illegal conduct, the company has ensured that hundreds of millions of people turn to Google first when looking for an answer, but it doesn’t take a web search to understand that unchecked corporate power shouldn’t have disproportionate control over our data and information," James said. "For decades now, Google has served as the gatekeeper of the Internet and has weaponized our data to kill off competitors and control our decision making – resulting in all of us paying more for the services we use every day.”

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The lawsuit is similar to the DOJ’s in that it highlights allegations of Google’s anticompetitive behavior in the general search marketplace, but it goes beyond the DOJ’s complaint in that it accuses Google of monopolizing the way consumers access search engines through smart home and car products.

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"By undermining competition in this market, Google gives consumers less choice and forstalls innovation, as well as erects artificial barriers that protect its search engine monopoly,” Weiser said.

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Google Search has prime placement on more than 90 web browsers, including Google Chrome, the most popular web browser in the U.S., and Apple’s Safari, the complaint states. It also says Google pays Apple between $8 billion and $12 billion annually under the agreement that Google pay Apple "a significant percentage of the Google search advertising revenue generated on Apple personal computers."

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The suit further alleges that Google uses its search advertising tool as a way to suppress competitor search engine advertising tools, which harms smaller advertisers.

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Google makes up 90% of all Internet searches in the U.S.; by comparison, no other competitor, such as Bing, makes up more than 7% of U.S. Internet searches, according to the lawsuit, and its ad revenue has grown 300% within the last decade. The company's share of the search engine market has not dropped below 85% in 10 years, the complaint says.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said during the Thursday press call that the attorneys general involved in the suit have been collaborating since November 2019.

“We’ve had over 45,000 documents in our investigation, which is, frankly, millions of pages that had to be reviewed and ... we took numerous third-party interviews from people in the industry to get better insight into how market competition has been affected,” Peterson said.

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The coalition also took several statements from the DOJ and lawyers, he added.

Paxton’s lawsuit similarly claims Google violated the Sherman Act when the company allegedly "monopolized or attempted to monopolize products and services used by advertisers and publishers in online-display advertising" and "engaged in false, misleading and deceptive acts while selling, buying and auctioning online-display ads.”