In less than three years, Alphabet has been taken to court five times – but there are three cases that confirm that something has changed in the relationship between the internet giant and the US authorities. One of the complaints joined prosecutors from 15 states in 2020, with Texas spearheading a lawsuit of Google’s dominance in web searches; in 2021, it initiated a second trial with the support of 36 states in 2021 and the claim of dominance in mobile application stores; and the most recent case was known last week, with the complaint filed in court by the Justice Department and eight U.S. states pointing the finger at anti-competitive practices in Internet advertising in general. In the EU, the Alphabet group already holds the record for the heaviest fines for advertising-related practices, but in the US, the latest lawsuits could revolutionize the business group we used to call Google.
“The US government knows that in a monopoly there is no competition. There may be a tendency to protect one’s own businesses, as in many other countries, but there is also an emphasis on consumer rights. And the authorities have an interest in ensuring free competition, in addition to avoiding monopolies that do not favor consumers and other companies,” said Paulo Trezentos, executive director of the Portuguese company Aptoide.
The lawsuits against Google are not exactly new to Trezentos: in addition to cooperating on complaints that may have contributed to the fine of more than 4.125 billion euros in Europe, the leader of Aptoide also cooperated with the American prosecutors who cooperated in the indictment presented by 36 states for practices related to the alleged advantage of the Play app store, by Alphabet, to the detriment of stores such as Aptoide or others competing for the sale of Android operating system apps (owned by Alphabet).
Alphabet responded to the latest lawsuit by questioning the neutrality of the US Department of Justice (DoJ). “The process initiated by the DoJ seeks to determine winners and losers in a highly competitive market such as the advertising technology sector. This action is largely a repeat of a baseless lawsuit led by the Attorney General of Texas (in 2020), much of which was dismissed by a federal court. The DoJ reiterates the flawed argument that there is a slowdown in innovation, an increase in advertising costs, and that it is designed to make it harder for thousands of small businesses and publishers to grow,” Google’s institutional services responded.
The lawsuit launched in 2020 certainly fell short of the efforts of the Texas Attorney General, but it got no further than half a win for Alphabet. In that trial, the judges failed to prove the allegation of abuse of power of a collaboration agreement between Meta (Facebook) and Alphabet.
In the most recent trial, the context and evidence used differ from those of 2020. Internal documents used in the complaint filed by the DoJ with eight other states reveal a warning from an Alphabet executive, among colleagues, that refers to the risks to which the business group is subject due to the concentration of power.
“In terms of analogy, it’s as if Goldman (Sacks) or Citibank owned the New York Stock Exchange (the name in English of the New York Stock Exchange’s regulatory entity),” the Alphabet executive said, according to the most recent indictment. launched by the DoJ against Alphabet.
On the other side of the Atlantic, these lawsuits do not fail to respond. “It turns out that Google (Alphabet) has to play on two boards. In the US, these cases are referred to the courts. But in Europe, these processes are not decided by the courts and stem from the obligations imposed at the regulatory level,” notes Paulo Trezentos.
European governance proved to be particularly painful for treasury, but in turn, American governance, in turn, could, to the extreme, end what Alphabet is today.
The most recent lawsuit, brought by a Virginia court, seeks to force the sale of part of the company responsible for several Internet advertising tools, the New York Times reports.
The possible separation of business units is not exactly new. At the end of President Donald Trump’s term, Congress, which brings together the U.S. parliamentary chambers, had already launched investigations into the leaders of the largest technology groups – and the name of the political initiative known as Breaking Up the Big Tech was the big one. technology companies”) has already made it possible for some of the big technology brands to even separate – through the sale or formation of new companies – from part of the company, to avoid monopolies or lack of competition in the market.
In the political arena, there are those who are pointing the finger at a change in the way the US administration, now with John Biden in the White House, has increased the intensity of its scrutiny of the power of the big tech companies.
The Justice Department’s cooperation in the latest indictment against Alphabet can be seen as a sign of political support for a process that will always have to be decided in the courts – unlike what happened in the EU with the application of the fine of the European Commission, which was later confirmed by the Court of Justice of the EU.
In addition to participating in the most recent lawsuit against Google, there are other signs that US authorities are aware of the tech companies’ intentions: the Federal Trade Commission recently asked the court to block Meta’s purchase of a startup, and before that he questioned Microsoft about purchasing video game producer Blizzard for $69 billion. The political and judicial siege is far from exclusive to Alphabet.