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Dec 17 (Reuters) - Google faced its third major lawsuit in two months on Thursday as 38 U.S. states and territories accused the $1 trillion company of abusing its market power to try to make its search engine as dominant inside cars, TVs and speakers as it is in phones.
The lawsuit against the company’s parent Alphabet Inc follows years of complaints that it and other big tech firms including Facebook and Amazon use their massive market power to smite competitors in pursuit of profits.
The states asked the court to find Google guilty of breaking antitrust law and to order an end to any agreements or other behavior that it finds to be exclusionary. It raised the possibility of requiring asset sales but did not go into detail.
The states did not ask for monetary relief, said Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.
“Fines are like kicking gorillas in the shin. We fortunately have remedies that are much broader in scope,” he said.
In its response to the lawsuit, Google reiterated its view that competition in search was tough, saying its rivals included TripAdvisor and Expedia and that any changes it made had been to benefit consumers.
"We look forward to making that case in court," said Adam Cohen, director of economic policy for Google, in a blog post. (Blog: bit.ly/3nwn3BY)
The states are asking for their lawsuit to be consolidated with one filed by the Justice Department in October, according to a statement from the Colorado attorney general’s office.
The complaint filed on Thursday focuses on Google’s search business and search advertising, as well as what they said was an effort by Google to use special agreements to also dominate newer technologies. The lawsuit claims, for example, that Google bars devices that use Google Assistant from including competing virtual assistant technology such as Amazon’s Alexa.
The accusation builds on concerns publicly expressed by speaker maker Sonos and other companies that say Google has acted unfairly to grow its market power.
“Google is preventing competitors in the voice assistant market from reaching consumers through connected cars, which stand to be a significant way the internet is accessed in the near future,” said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. In 1998, Miller was one of more than a dozen state attorneys general who sued Microsoft Corp, then the reigning tech giant.
The complaint also alleges that Google uses its SA360 software, which advertisers use to buy search ads and which is supposed to be neutral, in order to steer ads toward its own search engine and away from Microsoft’s competing search engine Bing.
Like Wednesday’s lawsuit by Texas, the new complaint also redacts many passages, masking internal correspondence used to back up claims.
The complaint also alleges that Google’s search favors its own services, like its tool for finding plumbers or vacation accommodations, and will show competitors who offer the same specialized services far down in search results.
Google shares were down 1% on Thursday afternoon.
The federal government’s complaint from October, which 14 other states have joined, accused the giant of acting unlawfully to maintain its position in search and advertising on the internet. On Wednesday, a group of Republican attorneys general led by Texas filed a separate lawsuit focused on Google’s dominance of digital advertising.
These lawsuits, in addition to two filed against social media giant Facebook this month, promise to be the biggest antitrust cases in a generation, as big as the lawsuit against Microsoft filed in 1998. That lawsuit was credited with clearing the way for the explosive growth of the internet.
The series of complaints mark a rare moment of agreement between Democrats and the Trump administration, whose criticisms seem to focus less on antitrust concerns and more on allegations that the platforms stifle conservative voices. Both moderate and progressive Democrats have praised the government’s lawsuit.
Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Paresh Dave in Oakland, California; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Sanders and Lisa Shumaker