U.S. Files Antitrust Suit Against Google
TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:
The U.S. Justice Department and 11 states are suing Google, accusing it of squeezing out competitors and monopolizing Internet search. The government says the tech giant is hurting consumers by making it hard for rival search engines to gain a foothold. NPR's Shannon Bond covers Google, which we should note is among NPR's financial supporters.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hi, Tonya.
MOSLEY: So how does the government allege Google is hurting its competitors?
BOND: Well, in short, it says Google is abusing its power. And this case is really all about Google's dominance. The Justice Department says about 80% of Internet searches in the U.S. go through Google, and that number is even bigger on mobile phones. And that's because Google has spent a lot of money over the years to be the default search engine on many browsers and phones, like Apple iPhones. And the government says that's made it hard for other companies to compete. Here's U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen.
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JEFF ROSEN: If the government does not enforce the antitrust laws to enable competition, we could lose the next wave of innovation. If that happens, Americans may never get to see the next Google.
MOSLEY: How is Google responding to these charges?
BOND: Well, it says this lawsuit is deeply flawed. You know, it says people aren't forced to use Google. They choose to use it because it's the best search engine. And Google also says these contracts we're talking about to be the default search provider aren't unfair. It compares it to a company that makes cereal paying a supermarket for, you know, better placement on the shelf. And that - you know, that doesn't mean that other cereal isn't also there on the shelf for you to buy. So Google says consumers can and do choose which search engine they want to use.
MOSLEY: OK, Shannon, but I bet if I were to ask one of these other search engines, they would actually say Google doesn't make it easy for them.
BOND: That's right. So, you know, on many phones, as we've said, Google search is the default because of these contracts. That's especially true of phones that run on Google's Android software, which is the majority of phones in the world. I spoke to Gabriel Weinberg. He's the CEO of DuckDuckGo, another search engine. And he says it takes a lot of steps to change all the default settings there. And people - a lot of people just don't do that. And Weinberg says that's why his company has only been able to get about 2% market share in search.
GABRIEL WEINBERG: But if it was really one click, like Google itself says it should be, we think that 2% would be easily 20% today.
BOND: So Weinberg says it should be easier to change search providers. And we should also note here that DuckDuckGo is also a financial supporter of NPR.
MOSLEY: So what could this lawsuit mean? Is Google going to be broken up?
BOND: That's really the big question. And, you know, the Justice Department's lawsuit doesn't get into specifics, but officials have said all options are on the table. That could mean pushing Google to split off some businesses. But, you know, this is going to take a long time. If we look back to the last big antitrust lawsuit against a tech giant - that was Microsoft in the 1990s - that took years to resolve. So this is a long road we're going to be on.
MOSLEY: And, you know, in the meantime, we're just two weeks away from the election. Is it possible the timing of this suit is also politically motivated?
BOND: Well, there certainly have been questions over why the Department of Justice is filing this suit now. You know, we have heard the Trump administration talk a lot about cracking down on big tech. Justice officials say, you know, this is the result of a 16-month-long investigation. It's not driven by any kind of political schedule or considerations. But I think the backdrop to this is there has been the real change in Washington after years of this hands-off approach to the tech industry. Now Republicans and Democrats are much more skeptical about the power of these big companies.
MOSLEY: Definitely a lot to follow here. That's NPR's Shannon Bond.
Thank you so much.
BOND: Thanks, Tonya.
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