In 2015, The Wall Street Journal obtained the original F.T.C. staff report, which was much more critical than what was publicly revealed at the time. Google’s “conduct has resulted — and will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets,” the report concluded.
Consumer groups have chastised the F.T.C. decision as a failure of American antitrust enforcement that set the pace for tech giants to grow into monopolies. Google, Facebook and Amazon control the online advertising market, and Google has grown from $38 billion in revenue in 2011 to $136 billion last year.
Since the F.T.C. investigation closed, the complaints against Google have expanded. Competitors that have complained to American regulators include Yelp, the consumer review site, and travel sites like TripAdvisor.
European regulators have accused Google of abusing its dominance in the smartphone industry with its Android operating system, which is used in 80 percent of the world’s smartphones. In July, European regulators fined Google $5.1 billion for automatically installing its search engine and other apps on Android phones.
Sundar Pichai, the company’s chief executive, has rebutted allegations of antitrust violations, as well as the accusations of biased results. After the European decision, he said on Twitter that “rapid innovation, wide choice, and falling prices are classic hallmarks of robust competition.”
“Android has enabled this and created more choice for everyone, not less,” he added.
The reference to “falling prices” points to a hurdle for any investigation. John Sherman, the Ohio senator for whom the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 is named, was able to decry monopolistic overcharges as “extortion which makes the people poor.” Modern antitrust theory revolves around the notion that unless there is direct harm to consumers, there is no case. And Google’s services are free to consumers.
The queasiness over the big tech companies is more spiritual than financial. Polls show a growing anxiety about the influence of technology on American lives, and the issue has emerged as a litmus test for the 2020 Democratic presidential field.