Justice Department drafting Google antitrust lawsuit

David McLaughlin
Bloomberg News

The U.S. Justice Department is drafting a lawsuit against Alphabet Inc.’s Google, accusing the internet giant of violating antitrust laws, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Justice Department has been investigating Google for nearly a year over whether the company is thwarting competition in the digital advertising market, where it holds a dominant position.

A draft complaint doesn’t necessarily mean the government will ultimately sue Google, but it signals investigators working on the case believe there is enough evidence to start preparing for litigation, said the person, who declined to be identified because the probe is confidential.

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

A lawsuit against Google would mark the most significant action against the company by U.S. enforcers. In the EU, Google has been fined billions of dollars for abusing its dominance and harming competition. But U.S. antitrust officials have been hands-off since the Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust jurisdiction with the Justice Department, closed an investigation in 2013.

All that changed in 2017 when the Trump administration took power wanting to take a hard look at Google, Bloomberg has reported. By then, Google and its fellow tech giants were facing a much less welcoming environment in Washington, where Democrats and Republicans raised concerns over massive collection of user data, failures to police content on their platforms, and claims they are monopolizing markets. The Justice Department opened the Google probe last summer.

State attorneys general are also investigating the company. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Google will likely be sued by the states and the Justice Department.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the coalition of 51 attorneys general, said Thursday, that states are on a “good path” to completing the investigation soon.

Google said in a statement that it’s engaging “with the ongoing investigations led by the Department of Justice and Attorney General Paxton” and it’s focused on “providing services that help consumers, support thousands of businesses, and enable increased choice and competition.”

Although Paxton’s investigation focuses on digital ads, some states within the investigation have also pursued other areas, such as search and mobile software, Bloomberg has reported.

States would likely band together on a single complaint, although some of the attorneys general might drop off before a lawsuit is filed, said a person familiar with the matter.