The Department of Justice hit Google with an antitrust suit today over the company’s dominance in search and search advertising.
The suit claims Google holds a position as “the gatekeeper to the internet” through unlawful and anticompetitive business practices.
“Today, millions of Americans rely on the internet and online platforms for their daily lives. Competition in this industry is vitally important, which is why today’s challenge against Google—the gatekeeper of the Internet—for violating antitrust laws is a monumental case both for the Department of Justice and for the American people,” said Attorney General William Barr in a statement. “This lawsuit strikes at the heart of Google’s grip over the internet for millions of American consumers, advertisers, small businesses and entrepreneurs beholden to an unlawful monopolist.”
Google did not immediately return Adweek’s request for comment, but tweeted this on its Public Policy account on Twitter after the suit was filed:
An antitrust case against Google has long been anticipated. Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee laid out a 449-page report outlining how Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon each act as “a gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution.”
Google Search is by far the dominant search engine with a U.S. market share of more than 88% across all platforms, according to Statcounter.
Search also drives Google’s position as the leader of the digital triopoly. Google’s share of the U.S. digital ad market is 29.4%, according to eMarketer, while Facebook owns 23.4% and Amazon has 9.5%.
Beyond search, Google owns a number of popular ad-supported properties like YouTube and Maps, and controls a suite of ad-tech products that enforce its market-leading position on both the buy- and sell-side.
Lawmakers grilled Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, alongside other Big Tech executives in July over the company’s allegedly monopolistic position within the digital ad market.
At the time, House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler pressed Pichai about the data Google gathers and whether it affects what news the company’s algorithm elevates in a user’s search. Pichai said Google’s algorithm doesn’t “take into account a commercial relationship.”
Regulators are also reportedly eyeing a possible breakup of Chrome, Google’s market-leading web browser.
Google Chrome commands a 66.3% share of the global web browser market, according to GlobalStats. Its ad stack, popularly referred to as DoubleClick, comprises a dominant ad server and both buy- and sell-side products that create a closed operating system, or a walled garden, which means marketers and media owners have no other option but to use Google’s products.
This regulatory scrutiny comes as Google plans to rid Chrome of third-party cookies by early 2022. Google is working with publishers and independent ad-tech companies within W3C to develop a new way to deliver targeted ads across the open web.
However, other companies within W3C have said Google’s proposals seem to put its own products in a central gatekeeping role. Also, the House’s antitrust report criticized Google for its “outsized” influence within W3C, claiming the advertising giant is “overrepresented” within the consortium that’s developing new standards for web advertising.