Dozens of states filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google on Thursday, alleging the search giant has an illegal monopoly over the online search market that hurts consumers and advertisers. The move marks the third lawsuit against the search giant in less than two months.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington by attorneys general of 35 states as well as the District of Columbia and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.
"Consumers are denied the benefits of competition, including the possibility of higher quality services and better privacy protections. Advertisers are harmed through lower quality and higher prices that are, in turn, passed along to consumers," Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in announcing the action.
In a blog post, Google's director of economic policy, Adam Cohen, said that Google's search is designed to bring the most useful information to consumers. "Our rigorous testing tells us that you far prefer these types of rich results," he wrote.
"But this lawsuit seeks to redesign search in ways that would deprive Americans of helpful information and hurt businesses' ability to connect directly with customers. We look forward to making that case in court, while remaining focused on delivering a high-quality search experience for our users," Cohen wrote.
The case is the third antitrust salvo to slam Google in the past two months, as the U.S. Department of Justice and attorneys general from across the U.S. weigh in with their different variations on how they believe the company is abusing its immense power to do bad things that harm other businesses, innovation and even consumers who find its services to be indispensable.
"There's not been a cluster of cases of this significance since the 1970s," said William Kovacic, a law professor at George Washington University and a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, pointing to the recent spate of antitrust actions by the states, the Justice Department and the FTC. "This is a big deal."
The DOJ brought an antitrust suit against AT&T in 1974 that led to its breakup.
Suit seeks to join federal efforts
The, alleging that the company maintains its search dominance through illegal means. Thursday's lawsuit echoes the allegations brought by the federal government but goes beyond them by seeking to stop Google from becoming dominant in the latest generation of technology, such as voice assistant devices and internet-connected cars. It also claims that the company discriminates against specialized search providers that provide travel, home repair and entertainment services, and denies access to its search-advertising management tool, SA360, to competitors such as Bing.
The lawsuit was joined by the attorneys general of Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The attorneys general have worked with the Justice Department as they developed their complaint and are asking that their case be combined with the department's lawsuit, allowing those more forward-looking claims to move ahead, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said.
"This will be a unified effort," he said.
Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, welcomed that latest suit.
"Google has built a monopoly in online advertising that is unfair, excludes competitors and drives up prices. And with its control of its search engine, Google has been able to unfairly filter out listings for competitors while promoting its own businesses," said Alex Harman, a competition policy advocate for the group.
On Wednesday, 10 states led by Republican attorneys generalaccusing it of "anti-competitive conduct" in the online advertising industry, including a deal to manipulate sales with rival Facebook. It targeted the heart of Google's business — the digital ads that generate nearly all of its revenue, as well as all the money that its corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., depends upon to help finance a range of far-flung technology projects.