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Google Hit With Second Antitrust Suit Alleging Illegal Monopoly In Online Ads

Attorneys general led by Texas have been investigating Google's powerful role in the digital advertising market.
Spencer Platt
Getty Images
Attorneys general led by Texas have been investigating Google's powerful role in the digital advertising market.

Attorneys general from 10 states sued Google on Wednesday, accusing it of wielding its dominant role in digital advertising to crush competitors, in the second major legal challenge to the tech giant's power this fall.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Texas, focuses on Google's powerful place in the complicated chain that links advertisers to publishers selling space online. Google is the biggest player in nearly nearly every step of that process, and the states allege it has abused that monopoly to manipulate the market and crush competitors.

"These actions harm every person in America," said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a video announcing the lawsuit. "If the free market were a baseball game, Google positioned itself as the pitcher, the batter and the umpire."

Google said in a statement the claims were "meritless" and that it would defend itself in court. It said that prices for digital advertising and ad technology have fallen over the last decade and that Google charges less for its tools than the industry average.

"These are hallmarks of a highly competitive industry," the company said.

Just two months ago, the U.S. Justice Department and 11 states sued Google, alleging the company illegally protected its monopoly in search and advertising. They accused Google of striking unfair deals with companies, including Apple to make its search engine the default on most web browsers and smartphones.

Google called the Justice Department lawsuit "deeply flawed" and said people use its services because they choose to, not because of a lack of alternatives.

After years of taking a hands-off attitude toward Silicon Valley, government regulators are now energetically challenging the influence of the biggest tech companies, which have amassed remarkable power over the way people communicate, find information and entertainment, shop, learn and work.

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission and 48 attorneys general hit Facebook with twin lawsuits alleging the social media giant has unfairly crushed competitors and should be broken up.

At the same time that the Trump administration has zeroed in on the tech giants as punching bags, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have also grown increasingly frustrated with and skeptical of Big Tech. House Democrats released a groundbreaking report in October accusing Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple of being potent Internet gatekeepers whose power must be checked.

Apple and Amazon are also under scrutiny from federal agencies and state attorneys general. Across the Atlantic, European and British regulators have unveiled new proposals that would force the biggest American tech companies to do more to stop the spread of harmful material and to compete more fairly.

Other states are also separately investigating Google's search business and are expected to file their own lawsuit or join the Justice Department's lawsuit soon.

Editor's note:Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon are among NPR's financial supporters.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.