The Justice Department is laying the foundation for a potential antitrust investigation of Google, three people familiar with the matter say zeroing in on one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful tech companies as policymakers around the globe are calling for tougher regulation of an increasingly embattled industry. The search giant was fined a record $2.72 billion by European regulators in 2017 for abusing its dominance of the online search market. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission made an antitrust investigation of Google but closed it in 2013 without taking action.
The Justice Department’s recent talks with the FTC a process known as “clearance” suggest the likelihood of a new probe is high, some analysts say. “If there were a clearance fight over a Google investigation this is such a big matter that whoever won the clearance fight would almost certainly be opening an investigation,” The reported probe would come as tech monopolies face increasingly louder condemnation from political critics who claim that they wield far too much power and engage in anticompetitive tactics by either gobbling up competitors or crushing their business. “I want a government that makes sure everybody — even the biggest and most powerful companies in America — plays by the rules. And I want to make sure that the next generation of great American tech companies can flourish,” she said in March. “To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor.”
Google commands the lead in digital ad revenue by a wide margin, controlling 31.1% of global digital ad dollars, according to eMarketer’s 2019 estimates. Facebook is a distant second with 20.2%. Politicians and outside antitrust analysts have expressed concern in recent years that Google controls too much of the digital ad process. It makes the technology, hosts the largest search site where ads appear and collects data from all ad campaigns that it runs.