The Key Questions That Will Decide Whether Google Is a Monopoly

The DOJ’s antitrust case is simpler than you might expect

Will Oremus
OneZero
Published in
7 min readOct 22, 2020

--

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit this week alleging that Google is an illegal monopoly. Now comes the tricky part: proving it.

Once a humble search engine with no business model, Google has grown into such a vast conglomerate that the word “monopoly” seems almost inadequate to describe its scope. For that matter, even the word “Google” is inadequate — the search engine and its affiliated ad business are now just part of the broader, trillion-dollar Alphabet empire.

And yet the question of whether and how Google constitutes an illegal monopoly gets complicated in a hurry. Is its dominance of internet search a problem in itself? Does the problem stem from the breadth of its business, which spans search, online advertising, online video, mobile operating systems, cloud services, smart home devices, and much more? Does it arise from the interactions between these business lines, the way Google leverages its market power in one arena to boost its business in another? Or is there no real monopolization problem here at all, given that most users freely choose Google’s products over those of its rivals and reap the benefit of services that are offered to them at no monetary cost?

For all the potential complexity, the DOJ’s lawsuit seeks to answer that question as straightforwardly as possible. The problem, as alleged in its relatively svelte 64-page complaint, is Google’s dominance of internet search and search advertising, specifically, and the actions it has taken to entrench that dominance. And that’s a problem because it means less choice for both consumers and advertisers, and it stifles potential innovations that could lead to fresh approaches and business models in online search.

To better understand exactly what the DOJ is alleging, what it will have to prove, and what the case might hinge on, I talked with three leading antitrust experts, two of whom agreed to speak on the record. (The third spoke only on background because they are involved in a separate case against Google.)

At a time when many — including the U.S. House antitrust subcommittee — are calling for a dramatic…

--

--