The Justice Department and top state attorneys general are likely to file antitrust lawsuits against Google in the coming months, according to two people familiar with the matter, as regulators prepare to take more aggressive aim at the tech giant’s search-and-advertising empire.
The federal case could come as soon as the summer, said the sources, who requested anonymity to discuss a law-enforcement proceeding that had not been finalised. It is not clear if the Justice Department plans to file at the same time as state officials who also are probing the company. Their case against Google could be ready by autumn, one of the sources said.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Friday. Ken Paxton, attorney general of Texas, who is leading the state probe, said in a statement they had not been “slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic”.
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“We hope to have the investigation wrapped up by [autumn],” Mr Paxton added. “If we determine that filing is merited we will go to court soon after that.”
In response, Google spokesperson Julie Tarallo McAlister said the company continues to engage with investigators.
“Our focus is firmly on providing services that help consumers, support thousands of businesses and enable increased choice and competition,” she said in a statement.
An antitrust lawsuit against Google would mark a dramatic reversal of fortune for the tech giant, more than seven years after state and federal officials found the company largely had not violated the country’s competition laws.
European regulators, in contrast, repeatedly have levied billions of dollars in fines, accusing the Silicon Valley tech giant of harming rivals in the search, advertising and smartphone businesses.
US investigators renewed their interest in Google last year as part of a wider-ranging inquiry into whether Silicon Valley businesses threatened competition and consumers. In September, the Justice Department made its first request for critical documents from Google in a probe that appeared to focus on Google’s advertising business.
Since then, Justice Department officials have expanded their inquiry to include Google’s dominant search engine, according to multiple people familiar with the agency’s efforts, though it is not clear what wrongdoing the government’s case may allege.
The probe at times has been acrimonious, with officials at one point privately signalling the US government could take Google to court if it is not quicker to produce critical evidence.
Nearly every state attorney general in the US has signed on to the antitrust investigation led by Mr Paxton, who announced the probe on the steps of the US Supreme Court. He pledged in an interview that everything – including penalties that could lead to the breakup of the company – would be “on the table”.