Google has been sued by the U.S. Department of Justice, which alleges the company has engaged in anticompetitive practices designed to sustain monopolies in search and search advertising.
The action, filed Tuesday (Oct. 20), “marks the most aggressive U.S. legal challenge to a company’s dominance in the tech sector in more than two decades, with the potential to shake up Silicon Valley and beyond,” The Wall Street Journal reports.
At the core of the antitrust lawsuit is Google’s status as a de facto internet gatekeeper. It dominates internet search and, along with fellow tech titan Facebook, much of the digital advertising economy. It stands accused of maintaining that status via a myriad of exclusionary, connected business deals that serve to shut out its competitors.
The federal government contends, among other things, that Google uses its substantial advertising revenues to protect the primacy of its search engine as a pre-set default for mobile-phone manufacturers, carriers and browsers.
The result, the government alleges, is that Google has the inside track when it comes to search on hundreds of millions of American devices — minimizing opportunities for competition.
The lawsuit may also have implications for radio. Advocates for broadcasters, including the National Association of Broadcasters, have argued that they’re at a natural disadvantage when it comes to competing with digital entities. The NAB contends digital platforms steal viewers and listeners — and advertising dollars — but aren’t subject to the kinds of regulatory or public-interest obligations facing traditional broadcasters.
The NAB on Tuesday told Inside Radio that it had no specific comment on the federal government’s lawsuit, but that the organization appreciates “the attention and enforcement efforts of policymakers and antitrust officials seeking to hold major tech companies accountable for their anticompetitive practices.”
“As [NAB President] Gordon [Smith] has pointed out in statements and in his filing with the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, the competitive power of digital technology platforms challenges the ability of radio and TV broadcasters to compete online for advertisers and audiences, and threatens to impede the future of local journalism,” says Ann Marie Cumming, Senior Vice President for Communication at the NAB.
Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates, applauded the effort to push back against Google.
“Allowing Google free rein to manipulate and control the browser environment is tantamount to allowing a single broadcaster to have control over channel position,” he told Inside Radio. “What if Cumulus manufactured 69% of the automobile radios sold in the U.S. and pre-set them to Cumulus stations?
“[Google browser] Chrome is used by 69% of Internet users and is prewired to ‘tune in’ Google search, YouTube and whatever else Google prefers,” Borrell continued. “There may not be an immediately obvious parallel to radio and search engines, but there is absolutely a direct effect. Google’s channel control has allowed it to strangle the media industry by stealing extraordinary advertising market share — the lifeblood of radio.”