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Ministry of Justice explores Google Antitrust Case



WASHINGTON – The Justice Department is investigating whether to open a case against Google for potential antitrust violations, re-examining the company in a growing chorus of criticism of the power of Big Tech, three people with knowledge of the talks said Friday.

An investigation of how Google organizes search results could revive a case closed in 2013 by another government agency, the Federal Trade Commission. The five F.T.C. Commissioners voted unanimously at that time to bring charges against the company. Google agreed to make some changes to search practices related to advertising.

But this year, with a new antitrust workforce, announced in February, the Trade Commission renewed its interest in Google. In recent weeks, the Commission referred complaints about the company to the Ministry of Justice, which also monitors anti-trust regulations, according to two people familiar with the actions. The Commission has also told companies and others with complaints against Google about taking them to the Ministry of Justice.

The task force had looked at Google's advertising practices and influence in the online advertising industry, according to two of the people. One of the people said that the agency also looked at search practices. Most of Google's revenue comes from ads related to search results.

A spokesman for the Justice Department, Jeremy Edwards, refused to comment, which made representatives of Google and the FTC

Wall Street Journal previously report on the Justice Department's potential approach to Google.

If the Ministry of Justice opens a formal investigation, it will be the first major antitrust case against a major technology company under the Trump administration. Google, Facebook, and Amazon have come under strong bipartite criticism, and calls to break up companies have become a talk point during the 2020 democratic presidential election.

Political leaders and consumer prohibition groups have criticized US regulators for not responding to tech companies. Google, Amazon and Facebook have met rigorous penalties from a number of European regulators for antitrust and privacy issues. This year, European regulators offered Google 1.5 billion euros for antitrust violations in the online advertising market. The third anti-trust moves towards the companies of European officials in three years.

US regulators have investigated Facebook's privacy practices and the result is generally seen as a test of the nation's ability to polish how giant technology companies handle user data. F.T.C. Negotiating a settlement with Facebook that is expected to be as much as $ 5 billion to not protect the user's data from being used for political profiling by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm that had worked for President Trump's presidential campaign.

There has been a wave of new anti-trust controls in technology companies in Washington, including a May Senate debate on digital advertising containing allegations that Google engaged in competitive practices.

The conversation about regulating and scrutinizing Big Tech has also become a consistent campaign pledge among democratic presidential candidates, longtime friends of Silicon Valley as senators Cory Booker in New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts brought his "Break Up Big Tech" slogan to a billboard in San Francisco this week.

"Today's big-tech companies have too much power – too much power over our economy, our society and our democracy" Ms Warren wrote in a blog post on Medium this year.

When the FTC announced the antitrust workforce, chairman Joseph J. Simons said it had been created because technology companies presented new challenges for decades-long regulation of antitrust. Businesses like Google and Facebook offer free services and can claim that alternative search and social networks are a click away for consumers. It can complicate arguments for services damaging consumers or choking competition.

The task force has begun to manage complaints about Google to the Justice Department's antitrust division. Department and F.T.C. negotiate regularly on who has jurisdiction over competition cases, including investigations of competitive violations and mergers review.

While some of the complaints against Google are years old, there has been an increase in recent months regarding Silicon Valley's impact and power has grown, according to one of the people with over-the-top knowledge.

Stephen Kaufer, CEO of TripAdvisor, a company that has complained about Google's practice earlier, said he welcomed the new control on tech giant.

"TripAdvisor is still concerned about Google's practices in the US, the EU and worldwide," he said in a statement referring to the EU. "For the benefit of consumers and competition on the Internet, we look forward to all renewed interests from US regulators to Google's competitive behavior."


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