The end of 2020 is arriving with a slew of legal headaches for Big Tech. And a week after we learned of twin antitrust lawsuits against Facebook being brought by state attorneys general and the FTC in tandem, we learn that a group of states is also filing suit against Google.
The latest suit, which is separate from one being brought by the Department of Justice and a different group of states pertaining to Google's search engine, has a "partisan flavor" to it, as the New York Times notes, because the states' attorneys who have signed on to it are all Republicans — being led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The complaint contends that Google "manipulates" auctions for web advertising and overcharges publishers for ads.
Paxton announced the suit in a Twitter video, saying, "If the free market were a baseball game, Google positioned itself as the pitcher, the batter and the umpire."
#BREAKING: Texas takes the lead once more! Today, we’re filing a lawsuit against #Google for anticompetitive conduct.— Texas Attorney General (@TXAG) December 16, 2020
This internet Goliath used its power to manipulate the market, destroy competition, and harm YOU, the consumer. Stay tuned… pic.twitter.com/fdEVEWQb0e
While much of the backlash against Big Tech, in particular Facebook, Google, and Amazon, has been bipartisan, some of the attacks — in particular attacks about content moderation decisions that conservatives say are biased against them — have been led by Republicans. And this suit may not end up having the bipartisan support of the previously announced one involving the FTC and 11 states — which contends that Google enjoys a monopoly over search engine-based advertising and online searches in general. That suit appeared to be a direct echo of the successful antitrust suit against Microsoft over two decades ago.
The Federal Trade Commission and a bipartisan coalition of 48 state attorneys general announced two lawsuits last week that aim to break up Facebook, claiming that it had behaved anti-competitively in its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.
The new suit against Google, as the Times notes, is "the first by regulators in the United States to focus on the tools that connect buyers of advertising space with publishers who sell it." As The Verge reports, eight Republican-led states have joined Texas in the suit including Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas, and the Dakotas, but "some collaborating states reportedly left the lawsuit after several members of Paxton’s staff accused him of accepting bribes."
Google claims it has plenty of competition for online advertising, including from big companies like Amazon and AT&T. In a statement, company spokesperson Julie McAlister said, "Attorney General Paxton’s ad tech claims are meritless, yet he’s gone ahead in spite of all the facts. We will strongly defend ourselves from his baseless claims in court."
A separate antitrust suit led by the state of Colorado, which claims Google stifled search competition from Yahoo and others, is expected to be filed as early as Thursday.
Photo: Mitchell Luo