Minutes after news that a judge had dismiss an FTC anti-monopoly lawsuit against Facebook sent the social-media giant's market capitalization past the $1 trillion mark, Google has just been hit by some disappointing news on the anti-trust front.
Google shares tumbled heading into the close on reports that the Biden Administration was planning to revive a Trump-era investigation into Google's display ad business.
While a judge has granted some relief for Facebook, potentially taking it out of the sights of the FTC, which is now being led by anti-monopoly pioneer Lina Khan, it's clear the Biden Administration hasn't given up on scrutinizing American Big Tech.
According to Bloomberg, which broke the news Monday afternoon, antitrust investigators at the DoJ have stepped up scrutiny of Google's digital advertising practices in recent months, a sign that the Biden administration is "actively pursuing a probe that started under former President Donald Trump."
DoJ sued Google last year over claims the Alphabet-owned company was abusing its dominance in the internet search market, its biggest business. Any additional legal action, including whether to bring a second suit, will likely depend on whoever is chosen as the assistant attorney general overseeing the antitrust division. It will be up to that person to decide whether to proceed, and it's possible the government will bring no action against the company.
Staffers from the DoJ's antitrust office have reportedly interviewed several of Google's competitors about the firm's practices in the advertising technology market. The probe places a target on the company's second-most important business, according to people familiar with the action, who asked not to be identified discussing the early stage probe.
DoJ cast a wide net when it began investigating Google under AG William Barr, with investigators canvassing longtime Google foes of the tech giant including News Corp., Oracle and Yelp on their varied concerns about Google's potential abuses, including claims related to ad tech. Meanwhile, a group of US states led by Texas last year sued Google (along with other Big Tech firms) claiming Google had rigged the digital ads market, at which point it was unclear if the DoJ was still interested in investigating Google’s ad tech business. But apparently, the appetite is still there.
News of the Biden Administration's probe comes roughly one week after the EU's anti-trust head Margrethe Vestager launched her own probe into Google's display ad business, which generated nearly $150 billion in revenue for the company last year, and mostly involves Google placing display ads on third-party websites.