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DOJ sues Google for online advertising dominance

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The Justice Department filed a second federal antitrust lawsuit against search giant Google on Tuesday. alleging that the company abused its dominant position to foreclose competitors in digital advertising.

The lawsuit aims to break up Google’s ad business and force the company to divest key ad products.

Read the DOJ’s new antitrust lawsuit against Google

The lawsuit is a major test of the Biden administration’s commitment to deconcentration in Silicon Valley. It’s the first lawsuit the agency has filed against a tech giant led by antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter, a prominent opponent of big tech companies like Apple and Google.

The lawsuit alleges that the company conducted a “systematic campaign” to get to grips with the high-tech tools that publishers, advertisers and brokers use to buy and sell digital advertising.

“After interfering in all aspects of the digital advertising market, Google has employed anti-competitive, foreclosure and unlawful means to eliminate or greatly reduce any threat to its dominance over digital advertising technologies,” the lawsuit states.

Google has used its control of the advertising market to hurt its competitors, resulting in a “broken” advertising market where website builders make less and advertisers pay more, according to the DOJ. This affects consumers, too, because if publishers make less money from advertising, they’ll have to burden people through subscriptions, paywalls and other forms of monetization, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit adds to Google’s mounting legal challenges as the company is already fighting off a separate federal antitrust lawsuit filed in the fall of 2020 during the Donald Trump administration. That lawsuit, slated to go to court later this year, alleges that aspects of Google’s contracts with other companies are exclusive and serve to bolster Google’s dominance at the expense of competitors. Google also faces multiple antitrust lawsuits being fought by attorneys general.

The federal government has been investigating alleged monopoly behavior by Google and other tech giants for several years as the industry amassed increasing power and influence. A comprehensive 16-month investigation conducted by the House Antitrust Committee in 2020 concluded that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google were pursuing monopoly-style anti-competitive tactics to become leading tech giants. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)

The Google antitrust case focuses on consumer choice and how competitors are marginalized

Google called the first lawsuit “deeply flawed” when it was filed and said it would not help consumers. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday’s lawsuit.

President Biden has signaled his intention to seize power from Big Tech, in part by appointing tech monopoly critic Lina Khan as head of the FTC and Kanter. But the drive for stronger antitrust enforcement in the United States has stalled in recent years. The last Congress passed no significant legislation addressing the growing power of big tech, despite a year-long, bipartisan push to overhaul existing US antitrust laws.

The US government has filed more antitrust lawsuits in recent years, but they face an uphill battle in a court system that is taking an increasingly narrow view of competition law. The lawsuits are also often lengthy affairs, taking years to go to court and produce results.

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