Google's long-time rivals say DOJ antitrust suit shows it's lost its 'halo' in the eyes of regulators

Foundem creators Shivaun and Adam Raff stand outside of the European Court of Justice for Google's appeal hearing in its competition case in 2020.When Shivaun Raff began speaking with European regulators about her complaints of Google's exclusionary conduct over a decade ago, she seemed to stand more or less alone.

"Where is everyone?" she recalled regulatory staff asking her husband/co-founder at the time. "Why are you the first people that have come to talk to us?"

In 2020, Raff is far from alone in her complaints against Google. Though her vertical search start-up Foundem was the lead complainant in the European Union's investigation into Google's shopping comparison business, many others have joined her fight in the years since.
Rivals from around the world have gone public with their complaints that Google unfairly wields its dominance in internet search to edge out competitors, among complaints about its opaque advertising business. And as the chorus of criticism has grown louder, Google's glow in the eyes of those with the power to rein it in has dimmed."In normal cases, the first barrier to overcome was the Google halo effect, where people almost didn't view Google back then as a business. People almost viewed it as some sort of public nonprofit," Raff said. "Now I think that halo effect has been very much diminished."
There may be no greater demonstration of that than the Justice Department's new lawsuit against Google that alleges the company illegally maintains its monopoly in general search through anticompetitive practices and exclusionary agreements. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, marks the first time Google has been sued by the federal government in the U.S. The Federal Trade Commission declined to bring a lawsuit after closing its own investigation in 2013, though other governments have continued to probe and fine Google.A Google spokesperson pointed to its blog post responding to the DOJ complaint and calling it "deeply flawed." In the post, Google's top lawyer Kent Walker says the company has promotional agreements with device makers and phone carriers to feature it's services, but that they often also pre-load competing services that are easy for users to switch to. Walker also wrote that such agreements allow Google to offer Android for free, which he claimed contributes to lower phone prices for consumers.

The widespread complaints against Google have formed something of a cottage industry of opponents who have dedicated a large chunk of their careers to convincing regulators to take on the company.

Foundem suspended service at the end of 2016 and its entire site is now devoted to talking about Google's alleged harm to search competition. Links from Foundem's home page labeled for search categories like "LCD Televisions" and "Flights" all lead to a notice of the company's temporary suspension, with links and information about their case.Luther Lowe, the senior vice president of public policy for Yelp, has also been pushing regulators to go after Google for about a decade. He started at Yelp about 12 years ago as a sales rep, but moved into public policy work as Yelp's relationship with Google began to sour. He said the role wasn't always so focused on antitrust, which he said in a March interview was then taking up about 80% of his time. In his early policy work, he mainly stayed focused on educating lawmakers about Yelp and advocating for policies protecting free speech, he said.

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