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A US government lawsuit accusing Google of suppressing competition for internet search will proceed next month after a federal judge on Friday ruled that a central part of the complaint must be heard at trial.
In an opinion handed down in a Washington federal court, US District Judge Amit Mehta rejected Google’s request to throw out the case entirely, although he did dismiss some claims. A trial in the slimmed-down case will begin September 12.
Bringing the case to trial — even in narrower form — is a win for the Department of Justice’s antitrust unit, which under leader Jonathan Kanter has taken a tougher enforcement stance, particularly towards Big Tech. Kanter, who inherited the Google search lawsuit from his predecessor, argues this sector has ballooned over the years without proper antitrust scrutiny.
Mehta ordered that the central claim of the DoJ’s lawsuit — that Google’s allegedly exclusive arrangements in internet search violate US laws barring monopolisation — should go ahead. “There remain genuine disputes of material fact that warrant a trial,” he said.
But Mehta did accept Google’s request to exclude other aspects of the case, including claims that the company’s agreements related to Google Assistant and compatibility with Android devices were unlawful.
The judge also threw out some claims brought by the state of Colorado, which was among the state attorneys-general who had joined the DoJ lawsuit filed in 2020. Colorado alleged that Google’s treatment of internet companies focused on specific sectors — such as Expedia for travel or OpenTable for restaurant bookings — had anti-competitive effects in internet search.
“We appreciate the court’s careful consideration and decision to dismiss claims regarding the design of Google Search,” Kent Walker, Google’s chief legal officer, said in a statement. “People have more ways than ever to access information, and they choose to use Google because it’s helpful. We look forward to showing at trial that promoting and distributing our services is both legal and pro-competitive.”
The DoJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
William Barr, former US attorney-general who was in office when the lawsuit was filed in 2020, said at the time that internet competition was “vitally important”, making the “challenge against Google — the gatekeeper of the internet — for violating antitrust laws . . . a monumental case both for the Department of Justice and for the American people”.
Google is the target of a separate antitrust case brought by the DoJ in January for allegedly exercising monopolistic control of the digital advertising market. Google rejected the allegations, saying the DoJ was “doubling down on a flawed argument”.