NOEL KING, HOST:
The Department of Justice is suing Google. They say the company broke antitrust laws on its way to becoming the most dominant search engine in the world. Now, this lawsuit sets up the biggest fight over a tech giant's power in more than about 20 years. NPR's Shannon Bond covers Google, which, we should note, is among NPR's financial supporters.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: OK. So Google is being accused of abusing its power. What does the Department of Justice say exactly?
BOND: Well, here is Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen at a press conference this morning.
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JEFFREY ROSEN: Google is the gateway to the Internet and a search advertising behemoth. Google achieved some success in its early years, and no one begrudges that. But as the antitrust complaint filed today explains, it has maintained its monopoly power through exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.
KING: OK - A little bit of lingo. What does he mean by that in simple terms?
BOND: Well, I think we all know Google has these huge businesses, right? It's the biggest search engine. Eighty percent of searches in the U.S. happen on Google, the DOJ says. And the company also sells $160 billion a year in ads. And basically, what this case is arguing is Google has got there and kind of created this monopoly unfairly. And so the Justice Department says it's done this by striking deals to become the default search engine in many browsers and on people's smartphones. It pays billions of dollars every year to do this. And the DOJ says that has blocked out competitors. It's allowed Google to keep making billions of dollars selling advertising.
The government described this feedback loop as the self-reinforcing monopolies. And ultimately, the government is arguing here, that has meant less choice for consumers - we just don't have another search engine to go to - and higher prices for the advertisers.
KING: A lot of companies in - several companies in Silicon Valley, several big ones, are facing the same kinds of accusations. What are the implications of this lawsuit for Facebook, for example?
BOND: Right. Well, as - let's just sort of back up a little bit. As you said at the top, you know, this is the most - biggest, you know, antitrust case in tech since the Microsoft case more than 20 years ago. And, you know, since then, Washington has taken a really hands-off approach to regulating tech. We've seen the industry thrive and grow largely without limits, but that's really beginning to change.
So, you know, in this specific case, the Justice Department and the attorneys general have been investigating Google for more than a year. We should say 11 attorneys general has joined the Justice Department in this suit. And they are also looking at other companies like Facebook, like Amazon, like Apple - both the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, attorneys general. And those investigations are ongoing, so I think it would be fair to expect more of this in the future.
KING: OK. So this was just announced a few hours ago. What has Google said so far?
BOND: Right. So this morning, Google has said that the lawsuit is deeply flawed. It says, quote, "People use Google because they choose to, not because they are forced to or because they can't find alternatives." That kind of thing is what Google has been saying for a long time. And we should note, they've weathered challenges before. In 2013, there was a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the search business that ended with no accusations of wrongdoing. But at the same time, regulators in Europe have been taking a closer look. And Google has been fined more than $9 billion in the past few years over competition issues. So, you know, I think this is setting up for a big fight.
KING: Is it significant at all that this is happening two weeks before Election Day?
BOND: Well, I was just thinking, this is - there's long-standing Justice Department policy that the department not take any action in the runup to an election. The idea there is you want to avoid even the appearance of using the department's powers to influence an election. And certainly in this case, critics may say, you know, the department is violating that policy, if not in word, then in spirit.
You know, officials on the press conference this morning said this was not political. This was - you know, this is an investigation that's been going on for 16 months, and they felt the timing is right. But it's also, you know, not a secret. Attorney General Bill Barr has been outspoken about reining in big tech. It's something the Trump administration talks about a lot. You know, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have also been calling for action to rein in the power of big tech and to really kind of grapple with its influence on our lives. So, you know, I think we can expect to see more scrutiny of Google and the other tech companies.
KING: OK. NPR's Shannon Bond.
BOND: Thank you.
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