Google has once again fallen under the microscope of the government.

Attorneys general from 38 states, including Pennsylvania, have filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google alleging anti-competitive practices.

It’s the third lawsuit filed against Google since October. Facebook is also facing a pair of lawsuits alleging the company has become a monopoly. Apple and Amazon have encountered probes as well, reflecting serious concern among lawmakers and in the public regarding tech’s influence on information and commerce.

What exactly does the new suit allege?

This newest antitrust suit argues that the tech giant is favoring its own products over competitors’ in search results and unfairly driving up digital advertising prices, placing a golden finger on the scale.

Google is, primarily, a search engine, a service that connects people with information and services. As the default search engine for 80% of web browsers, however, Google’s power is immeasurable.

You see what Google wants you to see.

That might sound nefarious, but Google has defended itself against claims of censorship and privileging some information and companies by insisting that search results are determined by a faceless, constantly improving algorithm.

An algorithm may not be anti-competitive, but Google has long used contractors to cull search results and help weight certain results above others as well. And of course, the code’s metrics are set by people with their own agendas and biases.

The extent and precise nature of such gatekeeping is a closely held secret in Silicon Valley.

The attorneys general are seeking to restore a competitive marketplace and level the playing field for search engines and businesses in the digital world.

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Consumers’ purchasing habits have shifted toward e-commerce far faster than anticipated, thanks to the current pandemic — this lawsuit couldn’t have arrived at a more pivotal time.

For its part, Google has responded with blatant equivocation, protesting that all of its efforts to refine search results have been to generate a better user experience. This is a transparently concocted defense.

In a blog post responding to news of the lawsuit in December, Adam Cohen, Google’s director of economic policy stated: “To get more specifically to the issues raised in today’s lawsuit: it suggests we shouldn’t have worked to make Search better and that we should, in fact, be less useful to you.”

The straw man argument continues:

”We know that scrutiny of big companies is important and we’re prepared to answer questions and work through the issues. But this lawsuit seeks to redesign Search in ways that would deprive Americans of helpful information and hurt businesses’ ability to connect directly with customers.”

Nobody is buying into the idea that these corporations are altruistic or anything but profit-motivated these days. Google protests that direct search result traffic is advantageous for companies as it circumvents middlemen like aggregators and travel or ranking platforms.

Never mind that Google is acting as exactly that sort of platform.

The prospect of government getting involved in information trafficking is a specter no American should want to see.

Perhaps Google hasn’t done anything wrong. This suit will pull back the curtain and let users glimpse.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

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