- Google is preparing for a long antitrust summer as multiple investigations into its business come to a head.
- CEO Sundar Pichai will testify in front of Congress later this month alongside the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, and Facebook.
- But Google is being probed by other investigations into its advertising and search practices, in the US and in Europe, and could be hit with lawsuits in the coming months.
- The array of investigations and regulatory actions can be confusing. So we’ve rounded up the various investigations facing Google, so you have a better understanding of what each one means, and what investigators are looking at.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It’s set to be a long, hot antitrust summer for big tech, and no company is under the regulatory microscope more than Google.
The company is no stranger to these sorts of investigations. In the last decade, the European Union has launched three separate antitrust investigations into the company over violating competition rules. The US Federal Trade Commission also previously investigated allegations of search bias, which was resolved in 2013 after Google agreed to change some of its practices.
Now, the company is facing three potential cases in the US, focused on whether its search and advertising business have caused harm to competitors and consumers. And despite a pandemic upending almost everything, regulators are determined to forge ahead.
So far there have been no formal lawsuits but it’s amping up to be a big fight. There are several different threads going on here, so we’ve laid out the various investigations to get you up to speed.
Latest news about Google investigations:
1. House Judiciary Committee investigation into the Big Four
The first time we’ll see Google CEO Sundar Pichai testify this year will be part of a wider investigation by the House Judiciary Committee into the four big tech giants: Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
The investigation, which is being led by Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, is poking into whether the huge market power of these giants is hurting competition and consumers.
It’s now been confirmed that all four CEOs – Sundar Pichai, Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, and Mar Zuckerberg – will appear before lawmakers in a hearing on July 27, and it’s ramping up to be quite a show. This will be the first time that all four of these tech CEOs have appeared before Congress together.
What we don’t know is the format it will take, and this could be key to how effective the investigation is. Due to the pandemic it’s likely that the execs will appear remotely, but will they be asked individual questions pertaining to their specific companies, or will it be an open floor format?
The latter could play to the tech CEOs’ advantage by sharing the limelight across the four players and not putting the focus on any one individual company.
2. The Department of Justice investigation
In June 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department had launched an antitrust probe into Google. This is separate to a wider investigation by the DOJ into online platforms, which is still ongoing.
Google’s advertising business is said to be taking center stage, but the probe may go further. Back in March, Senators Josh Hawley and Richard Blumenthal wrote to Attorney General William Barr urging the Justice Department to not limit its probe to Google’s advertising business. Google’s search practices, they argued, “warrants close scrutiny.”
In an interview with CNN in June, DuckDuckGo’s founder said that the Justice Department was inquiring about search on Android.
The Justice Department could file a case against Google very soon, according to a report in May from the Washington Post which claimed that both the Justice Department and a group of state attorneys general (more on them below) were preparing litigation.
3. State Attorneys General investigation
Last September, the attorneys general of 50 states and territories launched their own joint investigation into Google, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The probe, which is running in parallel to another multi-state investigation into Facebook, set out to examine Google’s advertising business. Paxton and co want to know: is Google’s behavior harmful for the online advertising industry?
“They dominate the buyer side, the seller side, the auction side and the video side with YouTube,” said Paxton in a press conference last year.
But in November, CNBC, citing familiar people with the matter, reported that the probe was expanding into Google’s search and Android businesses.
The probe is currently running alongside the Justice Department investigation, but we could see some crossover. In fact, the two have already been conferring. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that the state attorneys general had met with the Justice Department to discuss their findings, and whether the two investigations could bring a joint lawsuit against Google.
But much is still unknown, including whether all of the states agree on how to bring a lawsuit against Google, and whether the two could ultimately team up to form a stronger case.
And finally, there’s Fitbit
While the above three investigations are the big ones Google is facing right now, it’s facing regulatory scrutiny elsewhere too. Its attempt to purchase smartwatch maker Fitbit is being carefully examined right now, and according to a report from the NY Post, AG William Barr – who’s also overseeing the Justice Department investigation – is directly involved with reviewing the Fitbit case.
Meanwhile, the European Union is now demanding Google make a binding pledge to not use Fitbit data in advertising products, according to a new Reuters report. This confirms what experts previously told Business Insider: Google will need to offer up concessions if it wants to pass the deal, due to the huge amount of user data Fitbit already owns.