Looming Antitrust Lawsuits Against Google Could Help the Journalism Industry

Antitrust lawsuits against Google from both the Department of Justice and a coalition of state attorneys general appear likely in the coming months. The Wall Street Journal reports that “Attorney General William Barr has devoted considerable resources to the Google probe” with the hope that it will be completed by summer. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the state investigation, to the Journal that he hopes it will be “wrapped up by fall” and they could “go to court soon after that.” 

These moves come at a time when Google’s anti competitive actions are garnering greater scrutiny from regulators and scholars. The UK Competitive Markets Authority found that Google’s profits in the digital ad market were at a level “consistent with evidence of exploitation of market power.” Gene Sperling, a former top economic policy official in the Clinton and Obama administrations, wrote recently that the tech giants “exploit dependency on their critical digital networks and platforms to use significant pressure–not superior innovation–to dominate potential competitors.” 

One of those moves is Google’s plan to eliminate third-party cookies, which former DOJ antitrust official Fiona Scott Morton writes will leave “Google with a virtual monopoly in digital advertising services for the open web.” Google’s own study found that eliminating cookies would reduce ad revenue for news publishers by 62%. Google’s ability to make unilateral changes to its Chrome browser has also given it an unfair advantage over news publishers in their competition for digital ad revenue.

As this coronavirus pandemic adds further misery to the journalism industry, it has become more evident that platforms like Google are the real culprits behind the recent major layoffs, furloughs and closures. Vice Media Chief Executive Nancy Dubuc cited Google and big tech as the primary drivers when announcing furloughs, “We aren’t seeing the return from the platforms benefiting and making money from our hard work. Now, after many years of this, the squeeze is becoming a chokehold. Platforms are not just taking a larger slice of the pie, but almost the whole pie… 36,000+ lost jobs in journalism is enough to take your breath away.”

The following is a statement from John Stanton, laid-off former D.C. Bureau Chief at BuzzFeed and co-founder of the Save Journalism Project:

“Finally, regulators are acting to examine how this digital robber baron has become such an advertising behemoth at the expense of news publishers. Google’s dominance has decimated the journalism industry and this pandemic only exacerbates it. Now more than ever, the journalism industry simply cannot afford to lose every last bit of revenue stream. From keeping its communities informed to ensuring governments are held accountable, the news is one of the most important pillars of our democracy. We can’t give up on an industry that has proved itself indespensible time and time again. The American people need the journalism industry now, and will need it after this pandemic, too.”