Not the Strongest Case: DOJ’s Google Antitrust Complaint

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an antitrust complaint against Google. It marks the beginning of the first major monopolization case since the 1998-2002 Microsoft case. The filing’s timing and content are heavily politicized, and the quality of the complaint reflects this.

My colleague Jessica Melugin has a piece about the case in the Financial Times. Besides arguments about regulatory capture and the difficulty of sorting competitive from anticompetitive behavior,she points out an embarrassing shortcoming in the DOJ’s case:

It takes three steps to switch the default search on an iPhone from Google to another search engine. If, as is alleged, Google is acting as a gatekeeper to the internet, three clicks is not a very robust gate. 

Over at National Review’s Capital Matters site, I share some of my initial findings on the complaint. Their case does not look very rigorous:

Language matters. According to the complaint, Google doesn’t monopolize search, but rather “general search.” This phrasing allows the government to elide major portions of Google’s relevant market.

This is the relevant market fallacy. To strengthen their case, regulators often accuse a company of monopolizing a market far narrower than its actual relevant market.

In this case, the complaint even gives its own examples, on pages 9-10. 

Read Jessica’s Financial Times piece here. My National Review piece is here.

See also the recent CEI studies “The Case against Antitrust Law” and “Terrible Tech 2.0,” and CEI’s dedicated antitrust web site, antitrust.cei.org.