Sep 13, 2019 - Technology

Justice Department presses Google rivals for info as part of antitrust inquiry

Illustration of Google logo in the spotlight

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

As part of its antitrust inquiry into Google, the Justice Department is seeking a variety of documents and information from DuckDuckGo, a privacy-oriented search service that competes with Google, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The Justice Department appears to be seeking information similar to what was gathered in an earlier EU inquiry — particularly about the types of deals and arrangements that Google and other companies have made to get their services installed by default on various devices and browsers.

The big picture: The requests for information are extremely broad. For example, the section on deals reads: "Submit all documents relating to any plans of, interest in, or efforts undertaken by the Company or any other person for any acquisition, divestiture, joint venture, alliance, or merger of any kind involving the sale of any product or service."

Among the information sought, according to an 8-page civil investigative demand sent earlier this month:

  • Any evidence or allegations that any player in the market is behaving in an anticompetitive manner.
  • Details of business deals to promote or preference its products.
  • Details on the company's revenue and expenses.

What they're saying: DuckDuckGo confirmed to Axios that it received the document request, which it referred to as a subpoena.

"While private search is only one of the privacy protection tools we offer, the subpoena concerns our experience competing in the search market, including search syndication contracts and default search deals.  We intend to cooperate with this inquiry as best we can because robust scrutiny promotes healthy competition, greater choice for users, and stronger data privacy practices."
— DuckDuckGo, in a statement to Axios
  • The company noted that it won't need to share any personal information with the government to respond to the request, given that it doesn't collect any in the first place.

Between the lines: DuckDuckGo's civil investigative demand offers a window onto the nature of similar requests that Microsoft and many other players have presumably received from the DOJ. Google disclosed last week that it had received a document request from the Justice Department.

The bigger picture: DuckDuckGo is a relatively small player in the search market, which is dominated by Google, with Microsoft and Yahoo holding a distant second and third position.

  • However, DuckDuckGo has seen its business grow significantly in recent months amid greater privacy concerns.
  • The company reported that it saw nearly 1.38 billion searches in August, up from 989 million queries during February of this year.

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