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Politics

The DOJ sues Google for monopoly practices — and says there’s more to come

Google's response: 'People use Google because they choose to – not because they're forced to or because they can't find alternatives.'

A Google office in London

The DOJ's case revolves around some of Google's antitrust weak spots, including the exclusive, billion-dollar agreements that require mobile-phone manufacturers to keep Google as their default search engine.

Photo: Future Publishing/Getty Images

The Department of Justice sued Google for antitrust violations on Tuesday, setting off what is likely to be a yearslong battle that will indelibly shape the future of the tech industry.

The case, which was filed in federal court in Washington, marks the most aggressive action by the U.S. government against a tech company in decades. The DOJ accuses Google of leveraging its dominant position in search and search-advertising to elbow out rivals and disadvantage competitors.

The case revolves around some of Google's antitrust weak spots: the exclusive, billion-dollar agreements that require mobile-phone manufacturers to keep Google as their default search engine, as well as Google's decision to preload Google search on Android phones. The European Union fined Google $5.1 billion over similar allegations two years ago.

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

"For many years, Google has used 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," the DOJ added.

During a call with reporters Tuesday morning, DOJ officials emphasized that this is only the beginning of a long effort to take on Google.

"We're asking the court to break Google's grip on search distribution so competition and innovation can take hold, and consumers and advertisers will no longer be beholden to an unchecked monopolist," said Ryan Shores, the DOJ's senior adviser for technology industries.

In a statement, Google called the lawsuit "deeply flawed." A Google spokesperson added: "People use Google because they choose to – not because they're forced to or because they can't find alternatives."

The case was filed by the DOJ along with the Republican attorneys general from Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and Texas. Other states currently investigating Google, including those led by Democrats, are likely to file their own separate cases in the upcoming months.

The case could mean serious structural changes for Google, including a breakup. There's no discussion of potential remedies in the case filed Tuesday, as those discussions usually happen further down the line. But the battle is only beginning, and it will last well past the Nov. 3 election.

Antitrust experts are predicting that a potential Biden administration would carry the case forward, considering the bipartisan energy around taking on the enormous power of the largest tech companies.

"I would definitely anticipate the Biden Justice Department carrying this forward," said John Newman, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami and former DOJ antitrust lawyer. "There seems to be a growing consensus in Democratic party circles that Biden needs to be stronger on antitrust than Obama was."

Newman said a Biden administration could even widen the scope of the antitrust complaint and potential remedies.

Over the last century, antitrust cases against dominant tech firms have triggered huge shifts in the tech industry's trajectory. The antitrust case against IBM in 1975 gave Microsoft room to flourish; the 1984 AT&T antitrust case opened new opportunities in the cellular market; and the 1990s case against Microsoft has been credited with enabling the rise of Google and Facebook.

In those cases, it didn't matter whether the U.S. government won its case or not. The act of suing a dominant tech firm changed how the company did business and created room for smaller companies to blossom.

"Historians will hopefully look at today as the beginning of the end of the surveillance economy," said Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO and founder of Google rival DuckDuckGo.

The DOJ's case against Google is certain to be marred by allegations of political bias. Attorney General William Barr was unusually involved in the Google investigation from the beginning, and he reportedly pushed to file the suit before the election over objections from Justice Department staff.

People

Google’s trying to build a more inclusive, less chaotic future of work

Javier Soltero, the VP of Workspace at Google, said time management is everything.

With everyone working in new places, Google believes time management is everything.

Image: Google

Javier Soltero was still pretty new to the G Suite team when the pandemic hit. Pretty quickly, everything about Google's hugely popular suite of work tools seemed to change. (It's not even called G Suite anymore, but rather Workspace.) And Soltero had to both guide his team through a new way of working and help them build the tools to guide billions of Workspace users.

This week, Soltero and his team announced a number of new Workspace features designed to help people manage their time, collaborate and get stuff done more effectively. It offered new tools for frontline workers to communicate better, more hardware for hybrid meetings, lots of Assistant and Calendar features to make planning easier and a picture-in-picture mode so people could be on Meet calls without really having to pay attention.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Protocol | Policy

Bad news for Big Tech: Bipartisan agreement on antitrust reform

Democrats and Republicans found common ground during the first House hearing on antitrust of the new Congress. Here's what that means for tech giants.

The House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee held their first hearing of the 117th Congress.

Photo: Tom Williams/Getty Images

During the first House antitrust hearing of the new Congress, Democratic chairman David Cicilline and Republican ranking member Ken Buck made it clear they intend to forge ahead with a series of bipartisan reform efforts that could cut into the power of the largest technology companies.

"We will work on a serious bipartisan basis to advance these reforms together," Cicilline said during his opening remarks Thursday.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

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