These efforts are expected to meet fierce resistance in federal courts. Judges have for decades subscribed to a view that antitrust violations should mostly be determined by whether they increase prices for consumers. But Jonathan Kanter, the chief of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, and Lina Khan, the F.T.C. chair, have said they are willing to lose cases that allow them to stretch the boundaries of the law and that put corporate America on notice.
The lawsuit on Tuesday describes a campaign by Google to monopolize advertising technology and then abuse that dominance, to the detriment of publishers, advertisers and ultimately consumers.
The Justice Department and the states, which include New York and California, said Google had built its monopoly by buying up crucial tools that delivered ads to publishers. As a result, advertisers paid more for space on the internet and publishers made less money, as Google took its cut, they said.
“Each time a threat has emerged, Google has used its market power in one or more of these ad tech tools to quash the threat,” the lawsuit said. “The result: Google’s plan for durable, industrywide dominance has succeeded.”
The Justice Department described internal Google documents and other evidence that it believes could help prove its case. In the lawsuit, the agency said one Google advertising executive had questioned the company’s market power, asking if there was “a deeper issue with us owning the platform, the exchange and a huge network” and adding that “the analogy would be if Goldman or Citibank owned the” New York Stock Exchange.
The lawsuit echoes claims made in the 2020 lawsuit backed by Texas and 14 other states and territories over Google’s ad technology. That lawsuit has had a mixed reception in court. In September, a federal judge in New York ruled that some of the case could go forward, but dismissed a claim involving a deal between Google and Facebook that the states said was anticompetitive.
Google’s search engine has long been its profit center, but its ad tech division has helped cement its place as a one-stop shop for advertisers. The two businesses together have given the company a powerful advantage in setting the price of online ads. Because Google’s various ad tools and platforms are closely integrated, a forced divestiture could be a painful and difficult process for the company.