Earlier this year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against Google, suggesting they had intentionally acquired businesses that sold services at every stage of the online advertising supply chain. Google now owns the services that almost all major website publishers use to sell advertising space, as well as the market’s leading tools that advertisers use to buy advertising space. They also own the largest advertising exchange that matches publishers and advertisers each time they purchase space. Google has acquired this position by pouring countless dollars into research and development of their search algorithm software, which has undoubtedly made using the internet more seamless for billions of daily users. With recent AI-enabled search services, Google’s dominance is threatened and with countless opportunities to innovate in this space – there can be no doubt that market forces will correct dominancy.
In conjunction with the DOJ, the lawsuit was filed alongside the state Attorney Generals from California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, and most recently Washington State. A lawsuit crossing the political spectrum and the country signifies a major move by all levels of government to disrupt the sector.
Since filing the lawsuit, Google has attempted to consolidate the varied lawsuits into one jurisdiction, the more favorable being New York. In an August 2021 request, Google successfully moved the lawsuit to a federal court in the Empire state. However, this week the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) chose to exercise power given to them late last year as part of the omnibus spending bill, making all-state AG Antitrust actions ineligible for Multidistrict litigation (MDL) except in very specific circumstances. Now, Google will instead fight multiple lawsuits in multiple federal court districts, including Texas where this decision will return to.
The State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act was heralded as a major win for lawmakers seeking to break Google’s dominant presence in the industry. Under previous legislation, defendants facing nationwide litigation could transfer cases with the same material facts to a single MDL case in a jurisdiction where their matter is being pursued in a federal court. The Act dramatically expanded the fronts in which defendants of antitrust lawsuits now need to fight, all at the expense of invaluable court resources, efficiency, and convenience to mount an adequate defense. Serious concerns regarding the duplication of legal recovery have also been raised, noting the uncertainty of multiple federal court judges making similar rulings.
This change has meant that businesses will not receive timely and reasoned responses to accusations of misconduct in an efficient manner. Instead, in the name of justice, lawmakers have intentionally made the judicial system more cumbersome and costly to private businesses. Ironically those lawmakers seeking justice do so by administratively tying the judiciary to an outcome.
This decision to kick the process back to Texas federal court is symbolic of this administration’s attachment to seeking symbolic victories instead of generating meaningful consumer protections. If the DOJ wanted to protect consumers arbitrarily charged more for advertising using Google AdTech, the administration would repeal the decision to disallow companies to merge multiple lawsuits with the same material facts from receiving one judgment.
To add insult to injury, the DOJ has asked that the lawsuit be heard by a jury, banking on the average American wanting to ‘stick it’ to Big Tech. A recent YouGov poll found 61 percent of Americans view the lack of competition amongst larger tech companies as at least somewhat concerning. Shockingly, the same poll suggests that there is very little difference in opinion amongst Democrat and Republican voters, a reality unthinkable to the business-loving right-of-center politics of the early 2000s.
Large technology companies now face a biased public, fueled by populism and rhetoric, all at the expense of consumers across the country. Lawmakers should stick to winning cases on their merit, instead of making the judicial system inaccessible.
Ben Dennehy is the Communications Manager at the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit us at www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.