As U.S. officials prepare an antitrust probe of Alphabet Inc.’s Google and possibly other Silicon Valley giants, a loose-knit crew of its rivals is gearing up to help. In industries from news to travel to online shopping, competitors of Google are readying documents and data in anticipation of meetings with the Justice Department, according to industry representatives.
Many of these companies have long argued that Big Tech platforms illegally abuse their market power. In recent years some of them have found a receptive audience in Europe, where authorities have thrice fined Google for alleged monopolistic practices. Google has paid the fines but is challenging them in court.
Now rivals are stepping up their advocacy in the U.S., where antitrust enforcers recently divvied up the job of examining antitrust concerns at large tech platforms, with the Justice Department preparing a Google probe. The Wall Street Journal reported on the potential probes by the department and the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month, citing people familiar with the matter.
Antitrust lawyers say any probe could take years to complete. Battle lines are already forming. Google is preparing its own data and arguments, the Journal has reported. It also recently overhauled its Washington lobbying operation with an eye toward amplifying the message that its products promote competition and benefit consumers.
Google has successfully navigated U.S. regulatory scrutiny of several previous mergers. In 2012 and early 2013, it persuaded the FTC not to pursue a possible antitrust case by agreeing to change some business practices. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.
The stable of Google critics includes TripAdvisor Inc. and Yelp Inc., which accuse the search giant of unfairly favoring its own content.
Oracle Corp. , which has a long-pending copyright case against Google, has briefed European antitrust regulators about Google’s use of data to target ads and was part of a successful coalition of plaintiffs against Google’s alleged anticompetitive behavior in its Android operating system for smartphones, which led to a record fine issued by the European Commission last year, of €4.3 billion.
News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal, and other publishers say Google and other tech platforms siphon ad revenue away from content creators.
All these companies say they would welcome further antitrust scrutiny. They and others are expected to seek out Justice Department officials as they prepare a Google probe, according to industry executives and antitrust lawyers. Still more firms haven’t criticized Google publicly, but privately stand ready to provide information to U.S. authorities about practices they view as potentially anticompetitive, according to industry representatives.
“There is a lot more concern that you hear behind closed doors,” said Jason Kint, chief executive of Digital Content Next, a trade association for online publishers that has argued online tech platforms are harming competition and consumers.
“Cautious and quiet optimism,” is how Mr. Kint described his members’ mood upon hearing the news of the potential Justice Department probe.
Private testimony was key in the FTC’s previous probe of Google, when competitors such as Microsoft Corp. provided regulators information on Google’s business practices, according to an internal FTC report from 2012. A Microsoft spokeswoman said the firm hasn’t filed a formal antitrust complaint with U.S. regulators and declined to comment further.
Last month a veteran of the online advertising industry—which Google leads, but where rivals don’t typically criticize it publicly—told the Senate Judiciary Committee that policy makers should consider breaking up tech giants.