The antitrust investigation into Google may be about to kick up a notch. In the United States, both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and state attorneys general are probing whether the search giant acted in an anticompetitive manner in two separate investigations. But the two could be about to start sharing information on their respective probes, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Sources told the WSJ that at least seven attorneys general have been invited to meet with the DOJ, which could mark “the start of a periodic dialogue that could expand into more formal cooperation as the probes continue.”
The DOJ announced it would begin an antitrust investigation into Big Tech companies including Google last July, while 50 U.S. state attorneys general announced their antitrust investigation into Google last September. With considerable overlap in issues under investigation, sharing information between the two probes should help both parties in their efforts.
The investigators are keen to emphasize that they are not anti-tech or anti-progress, but merely concerned over whether companies like Google exert an undue influence which squeezes smaller competitors out of the market for online services.
“The open internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, including a surge of economic opportunity, massive investment, and new pathways for education online,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in June. “But there is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”
It’s important to note that these are investigations, not lawsuits — at least for now. The issue in question is whether Google undermined consumer choice and stifled innovation in a way that harmed regular customers. For example, in 2015 companies including Google and Apple were fined for colluding not to poach each other’s employees, which is an uncompetitive practice.
And just last year, the European Union fined Google 4.3 billion euros ($5.1 billion) for the way it integrated its shopping service into its search results. By automatically directing searching users to its own shopping service, “Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors,” EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said at the time.
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