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Google likely to face federal, state antitrust lawsuits in coming months, sources say

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

The Justice Department and top state attorneys general are likely to file antitrust lawsuits against Google in the coming months, according to two people familiar with the matter, as regulators prepare to take more aggressive aim at the tech giant’s search-and-advertising empire.

The federal case could come as soon as the summer, said the sources, who requested anonymity to discuss a law-enforcement proceeding that had not been finalized. It is not clear if the department plans to file at the same time as state officials who also are probing the company. Their case against Google could be ready by the fall, one of the sources said.

The Justice Department declined to comment Friday. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the state probe, said in a statement they had not been “slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic.”

“We hope to have the investigation wrapped up by fall,” Paxton added. “If we determine that filing is merited we will go to court soon after that.”

In response, Google spokeswoman Julie Tarallo McAlister said the company continues to engage with investigators. “Our focus is firmly on providing services that help consumers, support thousands of businesses and enable increased choice and competition,” she said in a statement.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news.

Texas attorney general, Google’s new competition cop, says everything is ‘on the table’

An antitrust lawsuit against Google would mark a dramatic reversal of fortune for the tech giant, more than seven years after state and federal officials found the company largely had not violated the country’s competition laws. European regulators, in contrast, repeatedly have levied billions of dollars in fines, accusing the Silicon Valley tech giant of harming rivals in the search, advertising and smartphone businesses.

U.S. investigators renewed their interest in Google last year as part of a wider-ranging inquiry into whether Silicon Valley businesses threatened competition and consumers. In September, the Justice Department made its first request for critical documents from Google in a probe that appeared to focus on Google’s advertising business.

Top DOJ official signals intensifying state and federal antitrust probe of big tech

Since then, Justice officials have expanded their inquiry to include Google’s dominant search engine, according to multiple people familiar with the agency’s efforts, although it is not clear what wrongdoing the government’s case may allege. The probe at times has been acrimonious, with Justice officials at one point privately signaling the U.S. government could take Google to court if it isn’t quicker to produce critical evidence.

Nearly every state attorney general in the United States has signed on to the antitrust investigation led by Paxton, who announced the probe on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. He pledged in an interview that everything — including penalties that could lead to the breakup of the company — would be “on the table.”