Google may soon face an antitrust investigation from the US Department of Justice pertaining to its search business and potentially other aspects of the company’s sprawling software and services empire, according to a late Friday evening report from The Wall Street Journal. The DOJ is said to have spent the past few weeks preparing for the probe. Following publication of the WSJ’s story, The Washington Post is confirming an imminent antitrust probe as well.
Citing anonymous sources, the WSJ says the Federal Trade Commission, which works alongside the DOJ to bring federal antitrust cases, will defer to the Justice Department in this case. Prior to this, the FTC brought a case against the company in 2011 related to the placement of tracking cookies in Apple’s Safari browser. That case was resolved a year later with a $22.5 million civil penalty judgement, at the time the largest such judgement the FTC had ever earned in court. According to the WSJ, the FTC then investigated Google in 2013 for broad antitrust violations, but closed the case without taking any action against the search giant. Now, the DOJ is leading the charge on a new, potentially unprecedented antitrust evaluation of the company.
The 2011 FTC penalty pales in comparison to the three antitrust fines levied against Google by the European Union, which has fined Google billions of dollars related to its Google Search practices, the software it bundles with its Android operating system, and most recently non-compete contracts it forced customers to sign when using its AdSense product. Google’s antitrust bill from the EU now totals €8.2 billion ($9.3 billion).
In the US, Google has gone largely unscathed, even as its become, alongside Facebook, one of the most dominant digital advertising businesses on the planet. Google has similarly dominant positions in the markets for search engines, web browsers, mobile operating systems, email, and numerous other product categories, all of which aid in its ability to collect data and serve targeted ads. That’s led to Google becoming a top target for politicians and regulators looking to rein in the power of Silicon Valley, most prominent of which is 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
Google and the DOJ did not immediately respond to requests for comment.