In an eyebrow-raising move, the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced last week that Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter has been cleared to lead an investigation into whether Google has knowingly participated in anti-competitive behaviors in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.
Critics of the move, including Google itself, point out that during Kanter’s recent years in private practice, he represented a long list of the company’s competitors, such as Microsoft and Yelp. During this time, he advocated for an “antitrust case against Google,” which itself should have barred him from leading the investigation since it represents a conflict of interest.
The DoJ’s decision has important implications for the upcoming court case U.S. v. Google, which is set to go to trial in early September. That case, stems from a 2020 DoJ complaint against Google alleging that the company has, for “many years, unfairly maintained and extended monopolies” over important markets like “general search services.” These monopolies have had the net effect of “crippling the competitive process, reducing consumer choice, and stifling innovation.”
These claims are provocative. They not only assume that Google’s success in the search engine market was unearned, but also that it’s harmed consumer welfare. On the contrary, while it’s true that Google has participated in several mergers and acquisitions over the years, a careful examination of Google’s record, research and development (R&D) investment practices and innovative product offerings makes it clear that Google got to where it is today because of its wise decisions and consumer focus. Any concerns the DoJ may have about anticompetitive behavior should be carefully weighed against these other factors.
Published in its entirety in Medium.