The Department of Justice along with the attorneys general of eight states, including New Jersey, said Jan. 24 it is filing a civil antitrust suit against Google over its efforts to eliminate competition in the digital advertising marketplace and create a monopoly over all advertising bought and sold on the internet.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alleges Google monopolizes key digital advertising technologies – referred to as the ad tech stack – that website publishers depend on to sell ads, and that advertisers rely on to buy ads and reach customers. The Justice Department and states allege that Google’s practices violate Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act.
Joining the Justice Department and New Jersey in the federal and multistate suit are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia.
“Today’s complaint alleges that Google has used anticompetitive, exclusionary, and unlawful conduct to eliminate or severely diminish any threat to its dominance over digital advertising technologies,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. “No matter the industry and no matter the company, the Justice Department will vigorously enforce our antitrust laws to protect consumers, safeguard competition, and ensure economic fairness and opportunity for all.”
The suit alleges that for the past 15 years, Google has used a two-prong strategy to eliminate ad tech competition through a series of acquisitions, wielding its dominance through conduct that has forced more publishers and advertisers to use Google’s products and deterring them from competitors. The result, officials say, is that Google has cemented its dominance in tools relied on by these publishers and advertisers, as well as the digital advertising exchange that runs ad auctions.
The Justice Department and attorneys general say that the aim of the suit is to restore competition in these important markets and to obtain equitable and monetary relief on behalf of the American public.
“The complaint filed today alleges a pervasive and systemic pattern of misconduct through which Google sought to consolidate market power and stave off free-market competition,” said U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “In pursuit of outsized profits, Google has caused great harm to online publishers and advertisers and American consumers. This lawsuit marks an important milestone in the Department’s efforts to hold big technology companies accountable for violations of the antitrust laws.”
“Big tech companies like Google have grown larger by stomping out competition in their industry to build monopolies over everything from searches to advertising,” said New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin. “How they acquire and use their power and influence must be scrutinized. Today’s lawsuit makes clear that no company is too big or powerful to be held accountable for their actions.”
Dan Taylor, Google vice president, Global Ads, issued a lengthy statement on Google’s blog, arguing that the lawsuit is trying to rewrite history at the expense of publishers, advertisers and internet users.
“Today’s lawsuit from the Department of Justice attempts to pick winner and loser in the highly competitive advertising technology sector,” said Taylor. “It largely duplicates an unfounded lawsuit by the Texas Attorney General, much of which was recently dismissed by a federal court. DOJ is doubling down on a flawed argument that would slow innovation, raise advertising fees and make it harder for thousands of small businesses and publishers to grow. We’ve already responded in detail to many similar claims made in the complaint led by the Texas Attorney General.”
He stressed that Google is one of hundreds of companies that enable the placement of ads across the internet.
“And it’s been well reported that competition is increasing as more and more companies enter and invest in building their advertising business,” said Taylor.
The statement closed with an argument that the lawsuit would reverse years of innovation that would harm the broader advertising sector.
“The current Administration has stressed the value of antitrust enforcement in reducing prices and expanding choice for the American people. We agree,” Taylor wrote. “But this lawsuit would have the opposite effect, making it harder for Google to offer efficient advertising tools that benefit publishers, advertisers and the wider U.S. economy. Antitrust cases shouldn’t penalize companies that offer popular, efficient services, particularly in difficult economic times. And they shouldn’t force companies to reverse 15-year-old investments that they have nurtured and worked hard to make successful, especially when those investments were already reviewed by regulators and allowed to proceed.”
“We’ve spent years building and investing in our advertising technology business to support a vibrant, open web. We will vigorously contest attempts to break tools that are working for publishers, advertisers, and people across America,” Taylor closed the statement.