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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Insiders expect the Justice Department to charge Google with violating antitrust laws this week, in what would be the biggest such action against a U.S. tech company in two decades. But questions still swirl around how broad and tight Justice's case will be.

Why it matters: The suit against Google will focus on monopolistic behavior, but it's also likely to be the last chance for the Trump Administration to act against the tech giants it blames for anti-conservative bias before an election that could oust it.

Where it stands: The case is expected to focus on allegations of competitive abuses related to search.

  • The Justice Department and a group of state attorneys general have also been investigating Google's advertising business. One remedy proposal under discussion is to require Google to sell off its Chrome browser, Politico reports.

Between the lines: Proving today's tech giants are monopolists who cause consumer harm is challenging since companies like Google give most of their ad-supported services away for free.

The intrigue: In a sprawling report released last week, House Democrats made the case that Google does in fact hold a harmful monopoly in search.

  • They contended the company uses its existing market dominance, control of the Android operating system and financial and technological might to quash competition, thereby denying consumers the benefits of a healthy search market.
  • Some Republican lawmakers who worked on the congressional investigation objected to the report, in part because they wanted it to focus on allegations of bias.
  • It’s still unclear just how the DOJ will make its case, but they may end up making arguments similar to the House report, despite the partisan gulf between Democratic lawmakers and a GOP administration.

Yes, but: There's a lot going on that could derail the DOJ's plans.

  • Reporting last month suggested Attorney General Bill Barr was pushing for the case to be filed before some career lawyers felt it was ready, and there's no indication their reservations have been cleared up.
  • It's also not yet clear whether the DOJ will have the support of state attorneys general, who have been pursuing their own antitrust investigation into Google's advertising technology.

TheJustice Department briefed state attorneys general on the agency's case late last month, Axios and others reported.

  • Still, the state attorneys could opt against backing DOJ for case-specific reasons. The coalition of states probing Google's advertising technology may also fracture.

What we're hearing: Some experts are concerned that suing a tech giant that's under political attack this close to an election either is politically motivated or will appear that way.

  • "It would be curious to bring a case of this nature, against one of the biggest companies in the world, weeks before an election," said Doug Gansler, former Democratic attorney general of Maryland and onetime president of the National Association of Attorneys General, now head of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft’s state attorneys general practice.

What's next: If Biden wins, the DOJ under a new attorney general will independently assess the case and its theories and decide whether to continue, amend its suit or drop the case entirely.

Be smart: Although Democrats have broadly proven more eager than Republicans to advocate antitrust action against Big Tech, procedural objections or political concerns about carrying forward a Barr-led case could cloud its future under a Biden administration.

  • If Trump wins another term, his attorney general will get to see the case through.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
12 hours ago - Economy & Business

The pandemic isn't slowing tech

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Thursday's deluge of Big Tech earnings reports showed one thing pretty clearly: COVID-19 may be bad in all sorts of ways, but it's not slowing down the largest tech companies. If anything, it's helping some companies, like Amazon and Apple.

Yes, but: With the pandemic once again worsening in the U.S. and Europe, it's not clear how long the tech industry's winning streak can last.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Oct 29, 2020 - Economy & Business

Earnings reports to show if tech can keep growing in a pandemic

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon are all slated to report earnings after the markets close today, and that should give us a much better sense of how the tech industry is faring through the pandemic.

Why it matters: The reports should offer a clue of how sustainable tech's "new normal" is. That's especially important given that experts predict another and stronger wave of coronavirus in the U.S. that could force continued reliance on remote work for office employees.

24 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Technical glitch in Facebook's ad tools creates political firestorm

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: SOPA Images / Contributor

Facebook said late Thursday that a mix of "technical problems" and confusion among advertisers around its new political ad ban rules caused issues affecting ad campaigns of both parties.

Why it matters: A report out Thursday morning suggested the ad tools were causing campaign ads, even those that adhered to Facebook's new rules, to be paused. Very quickly, political campaigners began asserting the tech giant was enforcing policies in a way that was biased against their campaigns.

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