The Justice Department is exploring whether to open a case against Google for potential antitrust violations, putting renewed scrutiny on the company amid a growing chorus of criticism about the power of Big Tech, three people with knowledge of the deliberations said Friday.
An investigation into how Google arranges search results could revive a case closed in 2013 by another government agency, the Federal Trade Commission. The five FTC commissioners voted unanimously at the time against bringing charges against the company. Google agreed to make some changes to search practices tied to advertising.
But this year, with a new antitrust task force announced in February, the trade commission renewed its interest in Google. In recent weeks, the commission referred complaints about the company to the Justice Department, which also oversees antitrust regulations, according to two people familiar with the actions. The commission has also told companies and others with complaints against Google to take them to the Justice Department.
The task force had been looking into Google’s advertising practices and influence in the online advertising industry, according to two of the people. One of the people said the agency was also looking into its search practices. Most of Google’s revenue comes from advertisements tied to its search results.
A Justice Department spokesman, Jeremy Edwards, declined to comment, as did representatives for Google and the FTC.
Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook have faced stiff penalties from European regulators for antitrust and privacy issues. This year, European regulators fined Google 1.5 billion euros for antitrust violations in the online advertising market, the third antitrust move against the company by European officials in three years.
U.S. regulators have been investigating Facebook’s privacy practices, and the outcome is widely seen as a test of the nation’s ability to police how giant tech firms handle user data. The FTC is negotiating a settlement with Facebook that is expected to be as much as $5 billion for failing to protect its users’ data from being used by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm that had worked for President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
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