“Time To Save Journalism”: The DOJ Files An Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google’s Web Monopoly

“Time To Save Journalism”: The DOJ Files An Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google’s Web Monopoly

Journalism in America is facing an existential threat from the monopolistic control of tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple. Big tech’s dominance over the digital advertising market and their unrivaled capacity to monetize its platforms are having drastic effects on journalism as a whole.

In what is likely to be the opening salvo in the most significant antitrust case in decades, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Google for violating federal antitrust law in its search and digital advertising businesses. State attorneys general are also pursuing antitrust action against Google, with 11 joining this DOJ action and a further bipartisan coalition continuing on with an investigation that goes beyond what is in this initial DOJ lawsuit. Google has beaten back previous regulatory action, but the breadth of the forces arrayed against the company is different this time.

“Today, millions of Americans rely on the Internet and online platforms for their daily lives.  Competition in this industry is vitally important, which is why today’s challenge against Google — the gatekeeper of the Internet — for violating antitrust laws is a monumental case both for the Department of Justice and for the American people,” said Attorney General William Barr in the PR. “Since my confirmation, I have prioritized the Department’s review of online market-leading platforms to ensure that our technology industries remain competitive.  This lawsuit strikes at the heart of Google’s grip over the internet for millions of American consumers, advertisers, small businesses and entrepreneurs beholden to an unlawful monopolist.”

Google’s eponymous search engine controls more than 90% of the search market in the U.S. The DOJ alleges that Google built and maintains that monopoly through unlawful exclusivity agreements that leverage Google’s other platforms to further entrench its search dominance. Google’s monopoly on search means it is the top external referrer to news websites, making news outlets utterly dependent on Google for readers. Google then uses that reliance to require news publishers to conform to its demands, such as requiring news websites use Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) format in order to rank higher on search results. AMP is a stripped down format that has less advertising space, produces less revenue for news publishers, and gives Google access to more data on news websites’ readers.

Google is engaged in several other anti-competitive practices that harm the journalism industry. As Sen. Richard Blumenthal said at a recent hearing, Google is “driving [newspapers] out of business.” The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee report released earlier this month found Google gained near perfect market intelligence by being the leading platform on the sell side, buy side, and ad exchange in the digital ad marketplace, creating conflicts of interest when serving as an agent for news publishers in the ad marketplace. It also identified Google’s plan to eliminate third party cookies in its Chrome browser would cut off competitors to consumer data, a move Google’s own study would reduce ad revenue for news publishers by 62%.

The following is a statement from Laura Bassett, former Senior Politics Reporter for HuffPost who was laid off in January 2019, and co-founder of the Save Journalism Project:

Finally. Google has abused its market power at the expense of the journalism industry for years. It’s long past time that Google’s anti-competitive practices land the company in court. Concern and anger about Google’s multiple monopolies is bi-partisan and is a major focus of Congress, the Executive Branch, and state governments. We are encouraged by this broad support for action to reign in the excesses of Google that have decimated journalism and many other businesses. This is just the first step in what we believe will be a defining moment for our economy and our democracy.