State regulators and Justice Department officials are purportedly investigating ways to limit Google’s authority in the online search market as part of an antitrust probe.
Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO of rival, privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo, told Bloomberg that federal and state authorities have approached the company within the last few weeks to ask about requiring Google to provide consumers with alternatives to its search engine on Android devices and in its Chrome web browser.
“We’ve been talking to all of them about search and all of them have asked us detailed search questions,” he told Bloomberg.
Weinberg added that, given this line of questioning, DOJ officials could be considering adding a stipulation for Google to offer search engine options other than its own as part of a possible future settlement.
In a company statement, a Google spokeswoman told Bloomberg the following: “We continue to engage with the ongoing investigations…and we don’t have any updates or comments on speculation.”
The Justice Department has been investigating antitrust concerns about the search giant’s dominance online for nearly a year now. Officials from the DOJ and Federal Trade Commission launched a broad review in July to examine whether several big tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, had “reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers” in regards to online search, e-commerce, and social media.
Justice Department officials have gone so far as to draft a lawsuit against Google over these allegations of antitrust law violations, according to several reports. It’s expected to be filed within the coming months. Such a case would be among the biggest monopoly actions the American government has levied in decades.
Several coalitions of attorneys general have also launched their own investigation into Google’s possible monopoly power. In addition to Google’s search dominance, one probe led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which has the support of all 50 states, is scrutinizing the company’s web advertising empire.
“There is nothing wrong with a business becoming the biggest game in town if it does so through free market competition, but we have seen evidence that Google’s business practices may have undermined consumer choice, stifled innovation, violated users’ privacy, and put Google in control of the flow and dissemination of online information,” Paxton wrote in a press release announcing the investigation last September.
European Android users already have the option to select different search engines and web browsers on their devices thanks to a 2018 ruling by the European Union. European authorities slapped Google with a record $5.1 billion fine for antitrust violations and ordered the company to alter its practices by adding a so-called “choice screen” for users. If U.S. authorities push forward with their investigations, it’s likely they’ll be referencing this settlement to help determine how to best limit Google’s dominance online.