Google is facing increased scrutiny from the Justice Department, as reports arose last week that an antitrust lawsuit over the company’s advertising activities may be brought against the company soon.
The news of the impending lawsuit comes after the Biden administration appointed strong antitrust advocates to both the Federal Trade Commission and the DOJ, signaling that President Joe Biden is looking to challenge “Big Tech” companies and their business practices.
While pressure builds on Google to demonopolize, Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., is on its way to surpass its 2020 federal lobbying spending. In the first half of 2021, Alphabet spent nearly $1.8 million more on federal lobbying than it did at the same time period in 2020. That’s $5.9 million this year versus $4.1 million last year.
The company’s spending this year is more on track with its spending in 2019, when the company spent around $12.8 million on federal lobbying efforts. While 2021’s number may match that, 2019’s total spend was considerably less than previous years when Alphabet routinely spent more than $15 million.
Alphabet is increasing its federal lobbying as lawsuits pour in from more than 30 states. In July, 36 states and the District of Columbia sued the tech giant claiming it attempted to limit competition to its app store, Google Play, through tactics including paying Samsung Electronics Co. not to create its own app store.
The tech company has been under increased scrutiny following a smattering of complaints in 2020 for violating antitrust laws. In October 2020, the DOJ sued Alphabet for “unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets.”
In response to that suit, Google released a statement saying users choose the company’s search engine because they enjoy its services, not because it is a monopoly.
“Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed,” Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs said in the statement when the lawsuit was filed. “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”
However, the lawsuit won’t go to trial until September 2023.
The U.S. is not the only country considering antitrust cases against Alphabet. The European Union has been looking into whether Alphabet tried to prevent non-Google smart assistants from being downloaded on their devices. In 2017, the E.U. fined Alphabet $2.7 billion dollars (€2.4 billion euros) for promoting its own shopping tools on its search engine over other competitors.
Alphabet, and therefore Google, isn’t the only tech giant being investigated for monopolizing the marketplace. Apple Inc. is also being challenged on its app store policies. The iPhone creator was recently confronted by Epic Games, the developer of the video game Fortnite, in the Northern District of California, over its control of payment options for in-game purchases. The judge in the case filed an injunction against Apple’s App Store payment plans and found Apple’s app store violated antitrust laws. Epic announced Friday it would appeal the decision claiming the ruling didn’t go far enough to force competition in the app store.
Facebook Inc., which landed in the top 10 of federal lobbying spenders in 2020, is facing a suit from the FTC, as the commission reintroduced a case in August that focuses on Facebook’s mobile app acquisitions and whether the company used the acquisitions to reduce competition.
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