The Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Google

When you open your phone or computer to search online, most likely you use Google Search. Many people even use the word google as a verb meaning “search for.” Google is the default, or automatic, search engine available on most cell phones and many web browsers, and the U.S. Justice Department says that is a problem. The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the search engine giant, claiming that Google is a monopoly that has used its dominance to force out competing search engines. The trial against Google starts in mid-September 2023. 

In the Beginning  

Google began as a startup company in 1998. The internet began as a way for government agencies to share files and became publicly available in 1990. And the public needed a way to search for information on the internet. Several search engines existed before Google. They included WebCrawler, Lycos, AltaVista, Yahoo, and Ask Jeeves. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin improved upon other search engines by inventing an algorithm, or system of problem-solving operations, that ranked information by importance for people searching online.  

Social media concept.
Google is being challenged by the federal government.

Over the years, Google kept innovating. The company developed or acquired other services and products. These include Google Maps, Google Docs, YouTube, Google Chrome, Gmail, and Google Play. Google faces competition from other technology companies for these kinds of services. Their competitors include other tech giants such as TikTok, Instagram, Amazon Web Services, Facebook, and Microsoft. Since there is competition, the Justice Department is not suing Google over these other services and products. It is only suing the tech giant over its search engine business practices. 

The Federal Government’s Case  

According to the government, Google is a monopoly because it holds over 90 percent of the global search engine market. A monopoly is a market structure with only one dominant seller of a product. The Justice Department claims that Google has used its monopoly power to push other search engines aside. The Justice Department also argues that Google used illegal practices to force companies and web browsers to show Google Search first when people turn on their phones, computers, and other devices. The government claims that Google pays billions of dollars each year to companies to make Google’s search engine the default. 

Google’s Case  

In response, Google states that people use Google Search because it is better than the competition, not because they are forced to use it. The company also claims that people have a choice of which search engine to use. Users can adjust their devices so that a different search engine comes up when they turn on their phones and computers.  

Not the First Tech Trial  

Google is not the first tech giant to face a lawsuit by the government. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Microsoft was investigated and charged with monopoly behavior. In United States v. Microsoft Corp., the Justice Department used the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 to bring Microsoft to trial. The Sherman Act was the nation’s first significant law against monopolies and other practices that hurt competition. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that Microsoft used its leading position in the operating systems market to push out other software and browser developers. The court’s decision forced Microsoft to change some of its business practices. The Justice Department is planning on using the same arguments in the current trial against Google.  

A Closely Watched Trial  

The government filed its case against Google in 2020. Lawyers on both sides have spent several years pulling together documents and witnesses to testify at the trial. Unlike other court trials, the trial for Google will not include a jury. Judge Amit Mehta will hear arguments and make a ruling at the end of the trial, which may take up to three months.  

Some members of Congress have called for more regulation of all tech giants, claiming they have become too powerful. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham sponsored a bill in July 2023 that would create a commission to regulate powerful technology companies. They hope the outcome of this trial will reduce the control of other digital giants. Similarly, other search engine companies are glad to see Google come under the legal spotlight. They criticize the dominance Google has over the search engine market and its practice of collecting and storing user data.  

Others argue that the government’s case is unfair. They believe that Google has launched many new apps and services that have enabled technology to progress and become more efficient for users—a key benefit of a free market economy. 

It is not known what will happen if Google loses this legal challenge. Will the company just pay a fine? Will it have to restructure its business operations? Will it change how people use all search engines?  

What Do You Think? Is Google too powerful? Is the federal government justified in taking Google to court?