Google hit with US Justice Department antitrust lawsuit over search

Google has been sued by the US Justice Department, over allegations of antitrust behaviors including monopolizing search and anticompetitive advertising behaviors. The lawsuit, announced today, follows a year-long investigation by the DoJ, and even longer controversy about Google's heft in the online space.

"Two decades ago, Google became the darling of Silicon Valley as a scrappy startup with an innovative way to search the emerging internet. That Google is long gone," the case opens.

It positions the company as "a monopoly gatekeeper for the internet" that uses "anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in the markets for general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising – the cornerstones of its empire." Among the complaints are the billions of dollars that distributors are paid each year by Google to preset its search services as the default on phones and in browsers, as well as to limit similar deals with other providers. "Google's exclusionary agreements cover just under 60 percent of all general search queries," the complaint alleges.

It's the first antitrust lawsuit by the US government that Google has faced, and the stakes are high. Republican state attorneys general from eleven states have joined with the DoJ as plaintiffs. That includes Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas.

Obviously it's not the first time that Google has been the subject of investigations over search. The FTC undertook an antitrust investigation of its own into Google's search businesses, but failed to bring charges when it ended the case back in 2013. Google did, however, agree to a number of changes to search page layout and other factors.

Then, as now, the concern was just how much effort Google undertook to keep its services as the default for most search queries online, and how much of a barrier to rivals that presented. Among the frustrations was the amount of search result webpage set aside for promoting Google's own products, whether they be the advertising-funded tools and services it offers, or adverts themselves. In many cases, Google's rivals pointed out, the company would intentionally position adverts for its own services in results pages for queries about competitor products.

Unsurprisingly, Google disagrees. "Today's lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed," the search giant tweeted. "People use Google because they choose to – not because they're forced to or because they can't find alternatives."

A full statement will follow, Google added.