So, what happened?
Texas and nine other Republican-led states have filed a antitrust lawsuit against Google, alleging that the company monopolized digital advertising, including through anti-competitive deals with Facebook.
Google, claims the lawsuit, not only connects ad buyers and sellers, it manages the exchange and manipulates rules and algorithms to promote its own results. This makes Google “the pitcher, catcher, batsman and umpire, all at the same time,” the Texas attorney general said in his ad.
How does the lawsuit claim that Google and Facebook conspired?
The lawsuit describes behind-the-scenes deals between Google and Facebook, codenamed after characters from Star Wars, to manipulate ad auctions in a way that would benefit both rivals. (The code name itself has been redacted, although the the Wall Street newspaper has since revealed him as “Jedi Blue”.)
“Any collaboration between two competitors of this magnitude should have set off the strongest alarm bells in terms of antitrust compliance,” the lawsuit says. “Apparently not.
In addition to conspiring with Facebook, attorneys general say Google has also manipulated smaller, less threatening publishers and tricked them into auctions to ensure its dominance.
Is it true that Google can read my WhatsApp messages?
Much attention has been drawn to a heavily redacted section of the lawsuit, in which states allege an exclusive agreement between Google and Facebook, signed shortly after Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, “granting Google end-to-end access. boils down to millions of Americans. encrypted WhatsApp messages, photos, videos and audio files. ”
Due to the redactions, the evidence for this claim is unclear, although it may refer to a WhatsApp-Google Drive integration that permit WhatsApp users to more easily back up their accounts to Drive. The claim was made as part of Texas’ argument that Google only cared about user privacy when it was convenient and a good publicity for the search giant.
Wasn’t there another lawsuit against Google recently?
The Texas lawsuit follows a October complaint from the Ministry of Justice and 11 Republican states, including Texas. It also precedes an expected Colorado and Nevada complaint, which could be filed as early as Thursday.
These are the result of a joint investigation on Google launched in September 2019 involving 48 states, as well as Washington DC and Puerto Rico.
This is a “divide strategy for conquest,” says Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, an organization that campaigns against corporate monopolies, “with various officials from the application focusing on different aspects of the monopolization of Google due to resource constraints. ”
The DoJ’s complaint was more narrowly focused on Google’s agreements with creators of mobile devices and browsers to make its search engine the default search engine, while Thursday’s complaint is expected to focus on how Google changed its design to give it an edge over more specialized search engines, like Yelp, like Politico reported earlier this week.
Google’s search practices have drawn complaints from competitors and sometimes the attention of regulators for years, since its 2008 purchase of ad technology company DoubleClick led to its “fundamental shift” as a middleman – and possibly monopolist, depending on the lawsuit – for online advertising.
That has changed dramatically as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as consumer organizations, have increasingly criticized the outsized influence of big tech on American life.
What happens next?
The wave of lawsuits – including others that target other aspects of Google’s business – may possibly be consolidated with the DoJ’s complaints.
For its part, Google denies the wrongdoing and calls the Texas claims “baseless”.
“We have invested in cutting edge advertising technology services that help businesses and benefit consumers,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “We will firmly defend ourselves against his baseless allegations in court.”
It will be quite a struggle. Texas says it seeks to “restore free and fair competition in markets” as well as “structural, behavioral and monetary relief” – in other words, a break from the search giant.