Report: Google About to Face Its Third State Antitrust Suit, This Time Over Play Store

Report: Google About to Face Its Third State Antitrust Suit, This Time Over Play Store
Photo: Paul Sakuma, AP

Google is reportedly about to face its third antitrust lawsuit from state attorneys general–this time challenging its stranglehold on the Play Store, the default app portal for hundreds of millions of devices worldwide.

Sources told Reuters on Friday that a lawsuit focused on Play Store’s search and advertising functions is expected in February or March, adding onto two prior lawsuits from groups of state AGs focused on Google’s ad business and attempts to dominate emerging technologies like voice assistants.

Google is also facing a lawsuit from the Department of Justice focused on “monopolist” strategies to ensure it continues to hold the vast majority of the search market, such as exclusivity and pre-installation agreements with device manufacturers like Apple and using its clout to ensure industry-wide preference for its services in a “continuous and self-reinforcing cycle of monopolization.” However, the DOJ’s lawsuit is likely not going to receive a trial date until 2023 at the earliest.

The new suit, according to Reuters’ sources, targets Google’s content policies and mandatory use of Google-owned payment tools that demand a 30% cut of in-app revenue. Google, as well as rival firm Apple, are currently facing separate lawsuits claiming antitrust violations from game developer Epic. The suit concerns both tech companies’ decisions to purge Epic’s wildly popular game Fortnite from their respective app stores after it enabled an in-app payment option that cut Google and Apple out of its revenue; the developer’s action appeared designed to force a broader antitrust standoff.

State attorneys general from Utah, North Carolina, and New York are expected to head the forthcoming probe, with others likely to join, Reuters reported.

In a statement to Reuters, Android and Google Play Vice President Sameer Samat argued that consumers could simply choose to use another app store. (Apple is less generous; installing an app on iOS from outside the official store requires users to manually sideload it.)

“Most Android devices ship with at least two app stores preinstalled, and consumers are able to install additional app stores,” Samat wrote. “This openness means that even if a developer and Google do not agree on business terms the developer can still distribute on the Android platform.”