According to a widely reported rumor -- first published by the WSJ -- the DoJ is preparing to launch an antitrust probe of Google, though it's not clear on what basis such a probe would proceed.
Google is already under a 2013 FTC consent decree for anticompetitive behavior, under whose terms the company is required to fairly license its mobile patents, improve the management tools on its ad platforms, and refrain from using its control over the ad and search platform to prioritize its products and services over those of rivals.
Since the Reagan era, American antitrust regulators have been hamstrung by the ideology of failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, who invented an imaginary legislative history of antitrust law that required that antitrust action only be taken when companies were raising prices for consumers in the short term, and not to prevent monopolies and anticompetitive behavior in general.
This rule has made the wealthiest Americans much wealthier, and in general it's hard to imagine the Trump administration (or any Republican administration) reversing it. However, concentration in the online sector has resulted in widespread "no-platforming" of far-right darlings, who are, in turn, just the latest victims of no-platforming (the technique was pioneered on sex worker activists, trans activists, indigenous rights activists, Black Lives Matter activists, etc). This has set up an odd tension within the right: on the one hand, they don't want to stop the gravy train that monopoly profits represent for shareholders, but on the other hand, they're not happy that five or six tech execs can simply banish right wing blowhards from the public discourse.
I imagine that the FTC's plan represents some expression of this tendency: red meat for conservatives who hate the platforms, a saber rattled at their content moderation execs warning them to stay away from de-platforming Nazis and other right-wing thugs, and a sincere hope that a successful Google prosecution won't set the stage for other antitrust actions.
The U.S. Justice Department is planning an antitrust investigation into Alphabet’s Google subsidiary, according to several reports on Friday. The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The report comes amid discussion from politicians and the public about whether large technology companies should be broken up. Government pushback on Alphabet in search could hit at the core one of the most highly valued publicly traded companies in the world.
Justice Department is reportedly preparing antitrust probe of Google [Jordan Novet and Jennifer Elias/CNBC]
(Image: Cristiano, CC-BY-SA)