Google’s search engine, one of the most-profitable businesses in history, is about to face its biggest challenge as the U.S. government readies an antitrust lawsuit accusing the company of crushing competition to protect and extend its monopoly.
After a 14-month investigation, the Justice Department is homing in on whether Google skews search results to favor its own products and whether it uses an iron fist over access to users to shut out rivals, according to people familiar with the matter.
Google, which controls about 90% of the online search market in the U.S., has long been a target of rivals that complain it’s used that power to snuff out competition across the internet. What started out as a college research project in the late 1990s now generates about $100 billion in highly-profitable revenue each year. The search engine decides the fates of thousands of businesses online and has funded Google’s expansion into email, online video, smartphone software, maps, cloud computing, autonomous vehicles and other forms of digital ads.
European competition regulators have fined Google billions of euros for breaking antitrust laws. But U.S. enforcers have left the company mostly untouched since the Federal Trade Commission closed a probe in early 2013 with no action. Now, Attorney General William Barr is on the cusp of what could be the biggest U.S. monopoly case since Microsoft Corp. was sued by the government more than two decades ago. Google’s shares were down about 1% Friday morning in New York. They have gained about 5% this year.