The Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Google, filed alongside 11 state attorneys general on Tuesday, is a massive condemnation of the tech giant’s market power in search and search advertising.
If successful, the suit could rank among the most critical in U.S. antitrust history, akin in scope to the government’s victories against Microsoft at the turn of the century, AT&T in the early 1980s, the film studios in the late 1940s and Standard Oil more than a century ago.
But cases like these take time and could transcend administrations. So what happens if the White House changes guard during the course of this lawsuit? And what would happen to the government’s case against Google’s alleged search and search advertising monopolies?
Despite President Donald Trump’s renewed ire toward Big Tech, in how the platforms moderate his speech, and what powers they’re granted under Section 230, his opponent Joe Biden hasn’t made tech a central tenet of his presidential campaign, unlike Elizabeth Warren during her primary effort, who zeroed in on breaking up companies like Google.
Still, with a recent Democratic-led House report finding monopoly abuses by Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, there’s significant mainstream animosity toward Big Tech from the political left as well as the right.
In a statement to Adweek, Biden campaign spokesperson Bill Russo said that they would not comment on specific lawsuits. But he asserted the vice president’s commitment, if he is elected, to foster “an American economy that rewards true competition over monopoly power and hard work over excessive wealth.”
Experts told Adweek there’s reason to believe a Biden administration would unlikely to intervene with this suit—or other ongoing investigations into powerful tech companies like Amazon and Facebook.
“I just don’t think there’s anything in this complaint that would not sit with a Biden administration,” Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, a liberal think tank that advocates for the breakup of internet monopolies, told Adweek.
Hubbard, the author of the forthcoming book Monopolies Suck, thinks that the Justice Department’s case is strong in part because it’s limited to Google’s search and search advertising dominance.
“It’s actually not an innovative or boundary-pushing or risk-taking case at all. It’s a really, really strong complaint that largely mirrors the US v. Microsoft decision from over 20 years ago, which is still good law,” she said. “I don’t see any changes in the administration leading to any kind of a rollback.”
In these cases, “ambition is not good,” said James Andrew Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a foreign policy think tank. “It’s a sign of seriousness. A limited suit has a greater chance of success.”
The suit may expand if other state attorneys general file suit and consolidate theirs with that of the federal government. A separate group of 50 states and territories, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, are also investigating Google, but are reportedly more focused on its digital ad stack.
Even in its limited scope, the case could take years to resolve. The Microsoft case lasted from 1998-2001 and the Google suit, as well, could span multiple administrations.
Lewis noted the Obama administration had a friendly rapport with Silicon Valley—and Google in particular. He is interested to see whether that bleeds into Biden’s own tech policy.
“If you look at the travel logs, I think Google was the company that visited the White House most,” Lewis said. (The Intercept reported this in 2016.)