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A Google smartphone app. (Photo by Brett Jordan via Unsplash)

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is taking the lead in a 35-state, bipartisan lawsuit filed Thursday against tech giant Google that accuses the company of “anticompetitive conduct” and monopolistic behavior surrounding its search engine and advertising arm.  

The 115-page legal action, which was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., specifically alleges that Google has choked out other search engine websites, like Microsoft’s Bing. That has hurt consumers’ access to a competitive market and companies’ ability to acquire customers, the lawsuit claims, especially in the travel, home improvement and entertainment sectors where businesses like Yelp, Expedia and HomeAdvisor have been harmed.

The lawsuit also alleges that Google has used anticompetitive contracts with wireless carriers including Verizon and AT&T to protect its search-engine monopoly by excluding other search websites from prominent positions on cell phones and internet browsers. 

The states claim Google also has pushed its products, and therefore perpetuated its monopoly, in vehicle-based software and in-home voice assistants.

“Google enjoys virtually untrammeled power over internet search traffic
that extends to every state, district, and territory in the United States, and, indeed, into nearly every home and onto nearly every smartphone used in the United States,” the lawsuit says.

According to the legal action, nearly 80% of all internet searches in the United States are done through Google.

MORE: Read the lawsuit.

“Our economy is more concentrated than ever, and consumers are squeezed when they are deprived of choices in valued products and services,” Weiser said in a written statement. “Google’s anticompetitive actions have protected its general search monopolies and excluded rivals, depriving consumers of the benefits of competitive choices, forestalling innovation and undermining new entry or expansion. This lawsuit seeks to restore competition.”

Google immediately pushed back on the lawsuit, saying many of the claims it makes have already been examined and rejected by regulators in the U.S. and across the globe.

“We know that scrutiny of big companies is important and we’re prepared to answer questions and work through the issues,” the company said in a written statement, “But this lawsuit seeks to redesign Search in ways that would deprive Americans of helpful information and hurt businesses’ ability to connect directly with customers. We look forward to making that case in court, while remaining focused on delivering a high-quality search experience for our users.” 

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser speaks to reporters at a news conference Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, on mail-in voting. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Weiser, a Democrat, is putting to use his experience in antitrust cases picked up during stints at the U.S. Department of Justice under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. This is the second major lawsuit announced this month that he is helping lead against a tech company.

On Dec. 9, Colorado announced that Weiser was taking the lead in a sweeping, multistate antitrust lawsuit against Facebook.

MORE: Colorado leads lawsuit from federal government, states accusing Facebook of “predatory” conduct

Colorado and other states have for more than a year been investigating “potential monopolistic behavior” by Google.

Google is already facing a lawsuit from the federal government filed in October over allegations of antitrust law violations. Colorado and the states involved in the lawsuit announced Thursday have been coordinating with the U.S. Department of Justice and are seeking to consolidate their case with the federal one so the pair can be litigated simultaneously.

“It’s important to note our that case goes beyond the DOJ’s case,” Weiser said during a virtual news conference Thursday with the attorneys general of Iowa, Nebraska and Tennessee.

Weiser and his attorney general colleagues said pursuing a multi-state lawsuit separate from the federal government allowed for more legal input and perspectives. “We just wanted to embrace some additional theories,” said Doug Peterson, Nebraska’s attorney general, while emphasizing that the two legal actions are still generally pursuing the same line of allegations.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, another group of 10 states also announced a legal action against the California-based giant. That legal action similarly alleges anticompetitive advertising practices.

The lawsuit by Colorado and 34 other states also will allege that Google’s collection of users’ data has further fortified its monopolies and hurt businesses’ ability to acquire customers. 

The states are seeking to unwind systems they claim have allowed Google’s anticompetitive conduct, including possible divestiture of its assets. They are also asking to be awarded “reasonable fees and costs” associated with the legal action.

Other states that have signed onto the lawsuit include Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. 

The District of Columbia and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico have also signed onto the legal action.

The Colorado Sun —

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Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: Twitter: @jesseapaul