Justice Department ‘preparing’ Google antitrust investigation

The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reported, based on it anonymous sources, that the Department of Justice is preparing an antitrust probe of Google. The company has faced several similar inquiries from EU officials with billions in fines as a result, and in one case it caused Google to separate Chrome and Search from Android in the region.

Citing anonymous sources, the Wall Street Journal says the Federal Trade Commission, which works alongside the DOJ to bring federal antitrust cases, will defer to the Justice Department in this case. Prior to this, the FTC brought a case against the company in 2011 related to the placement of tracking cookies in Apple’s Safari browser. That case was resolved a year later with a $22.5 million civil penalty judgement, at the time the largest such judgement the FTC had ever earned in court. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FTC then investigated Google in 2013 for broad antitrust violations, but closed the case without taking any action against the search giant. Now, the DOJ is leading the charge on a new, potentially unprecedented antitrust evaluation of the company.

People familiar with the matter said that third-party critics of Google have already been in contact with the Justice Department, though it is unclear what the precise focus of the investigation will be.

The 2011 FTC penalty pales in comparison to the three antitrust fines levied against Google by the European Union, which has fined Google billions of dollars related to its Google Search practices, the software it bundles with its Android operating system, and most recently non-compete contracts it forced customers to sign when using its AdSense product. Google’s antitrust bill from the EU now totals €8.2 billion.

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