Attorney General William Barr’s December 23 resignation caught many in the tech accountability movement by surprise.
Barr was a driving force behind the Justice Department’s landmark Google antitrust suit in October. His departure has understandably raised questions about the future of the department’s second antitrust investigation against Google and the general approach the Trump DoJ will take towards the company as it nears the end of its term.
This concern from Big Tech’s critics is explicable. Given the tech-friendly staff that Joe Biden continues to appoint and float as cabinet picks, the president-elect doesn’t appear to be a tech hawk like many in the current administration. That means supporters of the cause need to get as much as they can done now before it’s too late.
Thankfully for their sake, the Trump DoJ remains in good hands and is unlikely to take its foot off the gas in its final few weeks on the job.
Barr’s gloves were indeed off during the DoJ’s October investigation into Google. That said, it was the new Acting Attorney General, Jeffrey Rosen, who was the lead point man of that probe. There’s no reason to believe he won’t carry out the second Google investigation with any less force. He is well-positioned to advance the agency’s efforts in the next 20 days to a point where a Biden White House wouldn’t be able to stop the momentum.
Even if there was reason to believe that this unexpected transition of DoJ leadership would adversely affect the department’s progress, there would still be no reason to think that Google would get off the hook. Over the last couple of weeks, many of the 50 states recently signed on to blockbuster lawsuits against the company that the incoming administration won’t have the power or authority to stop.
One coalition of attorneys general filed a lawsuit in early December claiming that Google manipulates its search engine to favor its own products and services. The lawsuit argues that Google’s tight hold on the search market allows it to act as a gatekeeper to businesses that rely on web sales for survival. Considering that only 5 percent of internet searches make it past the first results page, a site’s spot in the result order makes a huge difference for companies looking for traffic.
That Google potentially uses its position as internet gatekeeper to favor itself and stifle competition is grounds for a massive fine or more.
This lawsuit wasn’t the only non-DoJ related legal bombshell to drop against Google this month. Another group of AGs filed complaints about Google’s digital advertising industry. They provided evidence that Google has rigged the ad market to limit competition and keep prices high.
In some instances, Google made deals with potential rivals to redirect business towards them. The law has a word for this: collusion. The arrangements weren’t just agreed to by handshake; they are allegedly documented and could end the big tech oligarchy as we know it in one fell swoop. No amount of lobbying can make hard evidence disappear.
While these lawsuits and the appeals that will inevitably come with them will take years to conclude, one case is actually nearing its final verdict relatively soon.
After a decade of legal wrangling, Google v. Oracle should have a verdict by the beginning of this summer. Presented to the Supreme Court in October, the case centers on whether or not Google stole over 11,000 lines of code from the Java library when it created the Android mobile operating system. Given that the company initially asked for licensing terms, it certainly appears that it did take this coding unlawfully, ostensibly to save money on development and fast-track its product to the market.
Fast forward to the present, and the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling could very well kick off a year of severe legal headaches for the Silicon Valley giant.
While Barr will be missed for his tenacity and audacious pursuit of justice, he’s left his work and legacy in the hands of a seasoned professional who will ensure that his work in reining in the tech sector monopoly withstands even the swampiest of D.C. storms.
Sure, big tech firms like Google may fill the next administration, but these officials won’t be able to stop all of these state and federal cases that already exist. Even more lawsuits may be on the way, and the more punches thrown at Google, the more likely that one will land.
Much is still uncertain for the future ahead, but one thing is clear: the easy ride for Big Tech is over.