State antitrust lawsuit could push for break up of Google’s advertising business

For the past several months, both the Department of Justice and state attorneys general have been readying antitrust investigations into Google. A new report today says that the US states are looking to break up Google’s ad division.

According to CNBC, state AGs are “leaning towards pushing for a breakup of its ad technology business as part of an expected suit.” That said, less drastic remedies might also be possible, including “imposing restrictions on how it runs its business.”

A split would be difficult given how integrated the ad division is, especially since Google’s key acquisitions date back to 2007 (DoubleClick) and 2009 (AdMob). One expert quoted by today’s report notes how courts are not particularly inclined to go that route given the possible ramifications.

“Courts are very concerned that by ripping a company apart, it hurts consumers and make it worse for people that don’t have the expertise to do that,” said Stephen Houck, one of the government lawyers in the Microsoft antitrust case two decades ago.

The US government’s case against Microsoft in the early 2000s resulted in Consent Decrees that imposed constraints on Windows development. Historically, one of the last major breakups was AT&T in the 1980s.

At the moment, both US states and the Justice Department are planning lawsuits. The latter might file as soon as this summer and states could follow in the fall.  One possibility sees the states join the federal government’s case, while another involves separate lawsuits relating to Google Search and the Android business.

For its part, Google tells CNBC today that, “We continue to engage with the ongoing investigations led by the Department of Justice and Attorney General Paxton, and we don’t have any updates or comments on speculation.”

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