DOJ To File Antitrust Charges Against Google Within Weeks: Report

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by Tyler Durden
Thursday, Sep 03, 2020 - 03:35 PM

The Department of Justice will is preparing to slap Google with an antitrust case over the next several weeks, according to the New York Times - which insists, based on five sources, that Attorney General Bill Barr "overruled career lawyers who said they needed more time to build a strong case against one of the world’s wealthiest, most formidable technology companies."

The Times is suggesting, based on leaks, that Barr is rushing the case for political purposes and the charges are premature.

The Google case could also give Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr an election-season achievement on an issue that both Democrats and Republicans see as a major problem: the influence of the biggest tech companies over consumers and the possibility that their business practices have stifled new competitors and hobbled legacy industries like telecom and media. -NYT

Some 40 lawyers working on a DOJ antitrust inquiry into Google parent Alphabet were reportedly told to wrap up their work by the end of this month, according to three of the five leakers, who we're guessing are part of the 40-lawyer team - as "most of the 40-odd lawyers who had been working on the investigation opposed the deadline." Others said they would not sign the complaint, while several left the case over the summer.

Some argued this summer in a memo that ran hundreds of pages that they could bring a strong case but needed more time, according to people who described the document. Disagreement persisted among the team over how broad the complaint should be and what Google could do to resolve the problems the government uncovered. The lawyers viewed the deadline as arbitrary.

While there were disagreements about tactics, career lawyers also expressed concerns that Mr. Barr wanted to announce the case in September to take credit for action against a powerful tech company under the Trump administration.

But Mr. Barr felt that the department had moved too slowly and that the deadline was not unreasonable, according to a senior Justice Department official. -NYT

Barr has shown a "deep interest" in the Google investigation, requesting regular briefings on the DOJ case, and "taking thick binders of information about it on trips and vacations and returning with ideas and notes."

The Times notes that antitrust action against Google has bipartisan support from a coalition of 50 states and territories, though Democrats and Republican state attorneys general conducting their own investigations are split on how to move forward.

Republicans have accused Democrats of slow-walking the work in order to bring charges under a potential Biden administration, while Democrats have accused Republicans of wanting Trump to receive credit - a disagreement which could limit the number of states participating in prosecuting the Silicon Valley giant.

When the Justice Department opened its inquiry into Alphabet in June 2019, career lawyers in the antitrust division were eager to take part. Some within the division described it as the case of the century, on par with the breakup of Standard Oil after the Gilded Age. It also offered a chance for the United States to catch up to European regulators who had been aggressive watchdogs of the technology sector.

Alphabet was an obvious antitrust target. Through YouTube, Google search, Google Maps and a suite of online advertising products, consumers interact with the company nearly every time they search for information, watch a video, hail a ride, order delivery in an app or see an ad online. Alphabet then improves its products based on the information it gleans from every user interaction, making its technology even more dominant. -NYT

According to the report, Google controls roughly 90% of web searches worldwide, and has been accused of unfair practices because its search and browsing tools are standard on phones with its Android operating system. They also dominate online advertising - capturing about 1/3 of every dollar spent.

Three people familiar with the case say the DOJ has compiled "powerful evidence of anticompetitive practices."

Read the rest of the report here.