More than 30 states added to Google’s mushrooming legal woes on Thursday, accusing the Silicon Valley titan of illegally arranging its search results to push out smaller rivals.
One day after 10 other states accused Google of abusing its dominance in advertising and overcharging publishers, and two months after the Justice Department said the company’s deals with other tech giants throttled competition, the bipartisan group of state prosecutors said in a lawsuit on Thursday that Google downplayed websites that let users search for information in specialized areas like home repair services and travel reviews. They also accused the company of using exclusive deals with phone makers like Apple to preference Google’s search service over rivals like Firefox and DuckDuckGo.
That suppression, the states said in their lawsuit, has locked in Google’s nearly 90 percent market dominance in search and has made it impossible for the smaller companies to grow into formidable competitors. Google has sought to extend that dominance to new venues like home voice assistants, said the prosecutors, from states including Colorado, Nebraska, New York and Utah.
The cascade of lawsuits against Google could gauge the staying power of the growing backlash against the largest tech companies, a movement that increasingly looks like it will usher in major changes for some of the world’s most popular digital services.
Critics have argued for years that Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon built sprawling empires over commerce, communications and culture, and then abused their growing power. But only recently have federal or state regulators brought major cases against them.
The Federal Trade Commission and 40 state attorneys general last week accused Facebook of buying smaller rivals like Instagram and WhatsApp to maintain its dominance, in a case that threatens to break the company apart. Regulators in Washington and around the country are also investigating Amazon and Apple.
In addition, Democratic and Republican political leaders have assumed a far more aggressive stance against the industry, including pushing changes to a once-sacrosanct law that protects sites from liability for the content posted by their users.
“Our economy is more concentrated than ever, and consumers are squeezed when they are deprived of choices in valued products and services,” said Phil Weiser, Colorado’s attorney general. “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.”
The prosecutors filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia and asked the court to combine it with one filed by the Justice Department in October, which includes similar accusations. If the court combines the suits, it will expand the scope of the federal case to include a much wider array of accusations about Google’s search business.
A Google spokeswoman did not immediately have a comment. The company has long denied accusations of antitrust violations, and is expected use its global network of lawyers, economists and lobbyists to fight the multiple accusations against it.
The lawsuit focuses on how Google maintained its hold on online search. While Google’s ambition has long been to create a directory for the entire web, over the years, other companies have developed search engines that specialize in a specific area. Yelp provides reviews for local businesses. Tripadvisor offers hotel reviews. Angie’s List points users to reliable home repair services.
Prosecutors said Thursday that Google had methodically downplayed these sites in its own search results while often prominently displaying its own competing reviews or services. That prevented any company from creating a broader grouping of specialized services that could have challenged Google’s search engine.
More recently, the company has used illegal tactics to extend its dominance to new vehicles for online search, including connected cars and home voice assistants, the prosecutors said. The lawsuit also contains allegations that Google abused data privacy.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.