Google could soon face multiple antitrust lawsuits brought on by both the Justice Department and a number of state attorneys general over the tech giant’s dominance over online advertising, the The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The Mountain View, California-based company, along with Facebook, has long been at the top of the online ad world, with Google parent company Alphabet clearing nearly $135 billion in total ad revenue last year.
The Justice Department’s investigation will also focus more broadly on whether Google leverages its search engine to hamper competitors, unnamed people familiar with the investigation told the Journal. Attorney General William Barr has considered the investigation a “top priority,” according to the paper, and has pushed for the department to make a decision on whether to file a lawsuit by this summer with “all signs point toward it bringing a case.”
Google did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.
Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has rallied several other states into looking into Google’s ad practices as well. It’s unclear if the states would file their own lawsuits or join in an overall claim led by the Justice Department. “We’ve issued [civil subpoenas] to Google and impacted third parties. We hope to have the investigation wrapped up by fall,” Paxton told the Journal. “If we determine that filing is merited we will go to court soon after that.”
The investigation was first announced last September by 50 attorneys general. California and Alabama were the only states not included, while Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia were included.
Google and Facebook combine to control about 60% of all online ad sales.
Both tech giants have faced increasing scrutiny from lawmakers and federal investigators in recent years. Google-owned YouTube paid a record-setting $170 million settlement last September to the Federal Trade Commission and the state of New York for collecting personal information on children without their parents’ consent. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, during her attempt to become the 2020 Democratic nominee, also outlined her plan to bring antitrust suits against tech giants like Facebook and Google if she were elected president.
Despite the added pressure from Washington, antitrust experts told TheWrap that the breakup of major tech firms is far from a sure thing. Penn State antitrust professor John Lopatka said there are “two necessary ingredients” that would be needed to take action against companies like Facebook and Google: Not only does there have to be proof Facebook and Google are monopolies, but you’d also have to show they extended their monopoly “through anti-competitive conduct.”
Google’s stock price dropped 1.5% in after-hour trading to $1,352 per share.