Antitrust Law Daily Senate antitrust subcommittee to hold hearing on online advertising market
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Monday, July 27, 2020

Senate antitrust subcommittee to hold hearing on online advertising market

By Jeffrey May, J.D.

September 15 meeting will consider the exercise of market power held by Google, other tech giants in the market. Meanwhile, the July 27 House judiciary hearing on tech competition has been delayed for two days.

Google’s conduct in the online advertising will be the subject of a September 15, 2020, hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy & Consumer Rights. Subcommittee Chairman Mike Lee (R., Utah) announced the hearing, titled, "Stacking the Tech: Has Google Harmed Competition in Online Advertising?" today.

The hearing announcement alludes to pending federal and state antitrust investigations into Google’s conduct in digital advertising markets. A multi-state probe of Google was disclosed in September 2019. A month before that, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division announced that it was reviewing whether major online platforms have achieved market power and, if so, whether they are "engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers."

The antitrust subcommittee hearing is intended to consider allegations that Google acquired or maintained its market power in online advertising in violation of the antitrust laws. It also will provide a forum to assess "the most important antitrust investigation of the 21st century," Lee said in reference to the previously disclosed probes.

"As the Justice Department and several state enforcers investigate Google’s conduct in digital advertising markets, it is critical that the Antitrust Subcommittee focus on the lack of competition in these online markets and the impact on consumers," Subcommittee Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) added.

Some senators’ concerns about Google’s activities go beyond the online advertising market. For instance, Senators Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) sent a letter in March to Attorney General William Barr in March, asking the Department of Justice to ensure that its antitrust investigation into Google includes the company’s search operations. These lawmakers contend that Google’s online advertising conduct is inextricably linked to Google’s search activities and that any probe should capture Google’s perceived anticompetitive practices to dominate online search.

Questions raised over Google-Fitbit deal. Google’s recent acquisitions are also raising red flags for some senators. Klobuchar and a number of fellow Democrats senators are urging urge the Department of Justice Antitrust Division to conduct a comprehensive review of Google’s proposed acquisition of Fitbit. That deal was announced in November 2019.

"Over the years, Google has completed more than 100 strategic acquisitions—including purchases of DoubleClick, AdMob, YouTube, Waze, and many other firms—virtually all of which cleared without significant enforcement action by federal antitrust enforcers," said Klobuchar. The senators advised the Antitrust Division to be extremely skeptical of unenforceable promises by Google not to employ Fitbit user data to support Google’s advertising and other businesses and to be wary of the risk that Google could use Fitbit’s data to lessen competition or foster monopoly positions in markets in which it is already dominant or approaching dominance.

House antitrust hearing rescheduled. Meanwhile on the other side of Capitol Hill, a House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee hearing scheduled for today on online platforms and market power was rescheduled for July 29. The hearing is intended to examine the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Amazon.com, Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple, Inc. CEO Tim Cook, Google LLC CEO Sundar Pichai, and Facebook, Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg were expected to testify. Republican committee members have invited John Matze, the CEO of online platform operator Parler, LLC to provide views as well.

Companies: Google, LLC; Amazon.com, Inc.; Apple, Inc.; Facebook, Inc.; Parler, LLC

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