by Chris White
Sens. Josh Hawley and Richard Blumenthal called on the Department of Justice to train its antitrust probe on Google’s search operations, which some say fuels the tech giant’s alleged anticompetitive practices.
The DOJ should turn its sights on Google’s search operations as well as its massive advertising business, Hawley and Blumenthal wrote in a letter Thursday to Attorney General William Barr. They suggested the search tool contains the epicenter of the company’s power.
“Narrowing the investigation’s focus such that Google’s anticompetitive practices to dominate the online search market is not captured does a grave disservice to consumers,” they wrote.
Hawley is a Missouri Republican who is making a name for himself as one of Google’s fiercest opponents. Blumenthal is a Connecticut Democrat who was one of several attorneys general to file an antitrust investigation in 1998 against Microsoft.
They cited reports showing Google using its search operations to squeeze out competitors. One report showed that the European Union fined the company more than $2.7 billion in 2017 for manipulating search results to hurt competitors.
“Anticompetitive conduct in search engines is especially pernicious because it can ensure permanent, illicit dominance,” Hawley and Blumenthal wrote. “Because of Google’s market share, it receives far more data than other search engines — data that it can use to improve its algorithm.”
Meanwhile, DOJ officials are reportedly asking Google’s rivals about how the company’s third-party advertising model affects advertisers. The agency is honing in on the company’s acquisition of DoubleClick, which is believed to be the source of Google’s power.
It is reportedly focusing in particular on two main elements: Google’s integration of the tools it provides websites to put ad space up for sale with its ad exchange; and the company’s move to require advertisers to use its own equipment when buying digital real estate on Google-owned YouTube.
Hawley’s making enemies. He proposed legislation in 2019 amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law passed in 1996 when the Internet was young and growing. The section protects websites from being sued for the content that users publish on the sites’ platforms.
“I’ve never seen pushback in such a fashion before,” Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, told reporters in July 2019. “It’s safe to say that it’s largely due to pressure from the social media giants that hasn’t been seen before.”
Big tech companies are breaking lobbying records.
Google was the biggest spender in 2018 by far, increasing its lobbying contributions 18% to $21.2 million. Facebook’s spending amount grew nearly 10% to $12.6 million. All three companies spent the bulk of their lobbying on in-house lobbying crews. The efforts largely went toward market and data regulation issues, according to the data.
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Chris White is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Background Photo “DOJ Building” by Coolcaesar. CC BY-SA 3.0.