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Analysis

Google and Justice Department headed for legal showdown over monopoly practices

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against tech giant Google today, claiming the company was functioning as an illegal monopoly. The DoJ claims that Google is “a monopoly gatekeeper for the internet” through its dominance in the field of online search and related businesses. 

The case against Google is based on antitrust law — the body of regulations meant to prohibit companies from conspiring to exclude competitors from the economy. Google is accused of cutting deals with other corporate giants to make its search engine and other products the default setting on popular devices. As a consequence, Google’s advertising business is alleged to have gained an unfair competitive advantage as well.

Chris Garaffa, editor of the progressive technology news site Tech for the People, explained to Liberation News, “about 80% of U.S. web searches go through Google’s properties. It makes deals with Mozilla at $400+ million per year for the next 4 years, with Apple at up to $11 billion per year, and many smaller companies and phone manufacturers to maintain its status as the default search engine in their products.” 

Garaffa also noted that “Google search is the default search engine in their Chrome web browser, which retains a numerical majority in browser usage, and their Android phone platform, which is the most widely-used phone operating system in the world. By using its financial power to make such deals as well as to invest in other services and technologies that bring in new customers – like Gmail, Docs, etc. – the company is able to maintain and grow its presence.”

Specifically the Justice Department’s argument is based on the Sherman Act. This law has a politically mixed history. It was passed in 1890 as a measure to break up big monopolies like Standard Oil that were owned by the infamous “robber barons” who dominated the economy. However, it has also been frequently used to target labor unions, which authorities have ludicrously yet successfully argued constitute monopolies as defined by the act. 

What’s behind the lawsuit?

The idea that the Trump administration is a champion of consumers and small businesses who are being cheated by big corporations is laughable. This administration has given the rich a $2 trillion tax break, slashed regulations across industries, and signed into law a $4 trillion bailout package for the big banks and corporations as the pandemic hit. So why is it going after one of the biggest companies on the planet?

Many major corporations donate to both Democrat and Republican politicians so that they have friends in power no matter who is elected. But frequently there are also general preferences that develop across industries for one ruling class party or another. Tech sector capitalists are seen to be, in their majority, sympathetic to the Democratic Party. The Trump re-election campaign has made allegations of political bias against conservatives on the part of big tech firms an important part of their political presentation. In addition to the federal Department of Justice, 11 state attorneys general have joined the lawsuit. All of them are Republicans.

But this does not mean that Google is the poor, defenseless victim of a vindictive administration — a narrative that the company is likely to promote directly or indirectly over the course of the legal battle. Google exercises enormous control over the ability of people to access information. It is valued at over $1 trillion and has $120 billion in cash saved up to deal with contingencies like this. It is highly politically connected and spent nearly $13 million on lobbying last year alone.

With an army of top lawyers and a carefully-cultivated network of friendly politicians at its disposal, the legal battle over the future of Google could drag on for years. The Department of Justice has not yet announced the remedy it is seeking to its allegations of monopolistic practices by Google, but antitrust suits often result in corporations being ordered to sell off a section of its business. Nationalizing the company and other tech giants in order to treat the internet as a public utility, however, is not on the agenda of any government or regulatory institution. 

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