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Sen. Mike Lee says the Justice Department may need to take action against Google

(Jacquelyn Martin | AP file photo) Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights Chair Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a hearing to examine whether Google harmed competition in online advertising on Sept. 15, 2020.

Sen. Mike Lee is extending his attack on tech giant Google, saying it is acting as a monopoly in selling digital ads and he supports possible action against it by the Justice Department.

After a subcommittee on antitrust that he chairs grilled a Google official earlier this week, Lee issued a statement late Wednesday outlining how Google might be a monopoly — and why continuing Justice Department scrutiny and action may be needed.

In the new statement, Lee did not mention a main assertion that he made during the hearing: that Google’s poor treatment of conservative groups is so extreme that it proves it is a monopoly, because no firm would treat customers that way unless it was sure it had no viable competitor.

He especially had complained that Google refused to allow ads that it sells to appear on the website of The Federalist, a conservative magazine, unless it eliminated its comment section, started moderating comments or blocked ads in that section. Google said it did that because the website allows racist comments, and Google doesn’t want ads it sells to appear next to them.

Lee complained in the new statement, “Google’s witness [Donald Harrison, who oversees corporate development] was evasive about the number of competitors that really compete with Google.” For example, he had said The Federalist uses 30 other competitor ad-selling companies and tools.

But, Lee said, “As any antitrust lawyer will tell you, it’s not the number of competitors, but their size and market share that matters. No one can compare to Google in that respect. In fact, my office has heard from publishers who do use a large number of advertising tools, but still get 99% of their ad revenue from Google.”

Lee also appeared on Fox News early Thursday where he said that the issue of whether Google is an illegal monopoly and whether Google has an anti-conservative bias are “analytically distinct.”

“it is however potentially reflective of how someone would act as a monopolist,” he said.

The Utah senator in his written statement said Google offers little transparency about pricing and profit as its various arms negotiate with buyers seeking to place ads and with the websites that seek to host them.

“That pricing is not transparent; a publisher doesn’t know what an advertiser bid on a specific ad, and advertisers don’t know how much of each bid goes to the publisher,” Lee said. “And while Google claimed its margin is competitive with other ad platforms, that doesn’t mean much if it is manipulating the auction process, to ensure that Google always wins.”

In short, Lee said, “My takeaway from the hearing was that Google has a commanding share of every piece of the ad stack … essentially forcing the vast majority of demand onto its platform. In turn, publishers are also forced to use Google’s platform because there really isn’t any other option.”

He said more facts are needed to definitively show whether Google is a monopoly that must be broken.

“I am glad that the Department of Justice is seriously investigating these allegations and hope it will pursue an appropriate remedy if necessary,” he said.

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