Feds may target Google’s Chrome browser for breakup - Politico
Prosecutors for the Justice Department and state attorney general offices are discussing ways of curbing the search giant's market power as they prepare to sue the company, as Politico reported.
Justice Department and state prosecutors investigating Google for alleged antitrust violations are considering whether to force the company to sell its dominant Chrome browser and parts of its lucrative advertising business, three people with knowledge of the discussions said Friday.
The conversations — amid preparations for an antitrust legal battle that DOJ is expected to begin in the coming weeks — could pave the way for the first court-ordered break-up of a U.S. company in decades. The forced sales would also represent major setbacks for Google, which uses its control of the world’s most popular web browser to aid the search engine that is the key to its fortunes.
Discussions about how to resolve Google’s control over the $162.3 billion global market for digital advertising remain ongoing, and no final decisions have been made, the people cautioned, speaking anonymously to discuss confidential discussions. But prosecutors have asked advertising technology experts, industry rivals and media publishers for potential steps to weaken Google’s grip.
Spokespeople for Google and the Justice Department declined to comment Friday.
The expected litigation comes as Google and fellow tech industry heavyweights Facebook, Amazon and Apple are facing growing scrutiny from both Republicans and Democrats in Washington for issues such as their squashing of competitors, treatment of users’ private data and handling of disinformation in the presidential race.
One major question facing the prosecutors in both suits: What fixes should they seek to curb Google’s power?
In the advertising investigation, DOJ and state attorneys general have asked rivals and other third parties for their views on which businesses Google should have to sell. They have also asked whether any existing competitors should be off-limits as potential buyers, the people said.
The lawyers have also asked whether any of Google’s properties outside of the advertising technology market should be targeted for potential sale — leading some to single out Google’s Chrome browser, they said.
The browser, which Google introduced in 2008 and has the largest market share in the U.S., has been at the center of rivals’ accusations that the search giant uses its access to users’ web histories to aid its advertising business.
That criticism escalated in January, when Google said it would phase out the use of third-party cookies in its Chrome browser within two years to enhance consumer privacy. But cookies — small files a browser uses to track visits to websites — are also a key tool for publishers to demonstrate the effectiveness of advertising campaigns to ad buyers.
Google’s own estimates show that eliminating those cookies will reduce advertising revenue to news outlets that show online ads by as much as 62 percent.
While other browsers such as Apple’s Safari and the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox already block cookies, the move by Google’s Chrome is likely to have broader reach as it’s used by nearly 60 percent of desktop computers and 37 percent of mobile devices in the U.S., according to analytics firm StatCounter.