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Google's Antitrust Cases: A Guide for the Perplexed

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Since October, three separate lawsuits have been filed against Google over alleged antitrust violations. The company denies the charges.

Credit: Sylvain Robin/Alamy

Do good things come in threes? Not if you're Google. Heading into the holidays, the company finds itself facing a trio of antitrust cases brought by an overlapping network of state and federal enforcers. That's a lot to keep track of. Let's try to sort through some of the biggest questions.

Why are there all these separate cases against Google, instead of just one?

The simplest answer is that Google has a dominant position in multiple markets. This opens it up to different lines of attack that don't all fit in the same lawsuit. Two of the cases focus on Google's monopoly in search and search advertising; the third focuses on its control over what you might call non-search advertising.

OK, so what are the cases?

The US Department of Justice filed the first case in October, joined initially by eleven Republican state attorneys general. This is the narrowest of the three lawsuits. It claims that Google has used anti-competitive tactics to protect its monopoly over general search and prevent rival search engines from getting a foothold. Most notably, the complaint describes the lengths Google has gone to to make sure it's the default search engine on browsers and smartphones—like paying Apple as much as $12 billion each year to make Google the default on Safari and iPhones. With its control over the search market secure, the suit says, Google can rake in more search advertising revenue, which in turn allows it to keep the payouts flowing. The DOJ argues that this amounts to an illegal scheme to maintain Google's monopoly over search.

What does Google say about that?

In response to the DOJ's suit, Google says that there's nothing wrong with the arrangements it has struck, because it's easy for users to change the default if they want. As the company's chief counsel put it in a blog post, "people don't use Google because they have to, they use it because they choose to."


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