The Justice Department is coming for Google’s digital ad domination

In mounting their latest traditional antitrust case, the government could have a real shot at taking the company on.
Google AdWords homepage close up with hovering mouse cursor

Google owns over a quarter of the digital advertising landscape. Deposit Photos

Google is no stranger to weathering antitrust complaints that often come with billions of dollars’ in EU fines. But its latest stateside legal challenge may prove harder to evade than any previous case. On Tuesday, the Justice Department, alongside 8 states, announced they are suing the company, and seek the dissolution of its advertising empire. The plaintiffs, which include California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia, cite an alleged monopoly over digital ad markets. And unlike similar US attempts in the past, this one could have some serious consequences—not only for Google and its parent company, Alphabet, Inc., but for the everyday internet landscape.

With an estimated 26.5 percent share of the market, there is no dispute who has long dominated the digital ad industry. According to the Justice Department, Google rakes in roughly 30 cents of every dollar advertisers spend within the company’s ad services, and likens the situation to if Goldman Sachs or Citibank owned the New York Stock Exchange itself. As a result, consumers have been harmed by the lack of market competition. These affected consumers purportedly include the federal government, who allege Google overcharged them as much as $100 million in online ad spending agencies, including the US Army.

[Related: Meta will pay $725 million for a single Cambridge Analytica privacy settlement.]

As The Verge explained on Wednesday, there is solid reason to believe the Justice Dept’s latest antitrust accusation against Google could eventually result in measurable changes and reforms. First and foremost, the Justice Dept. alongside its co-signed states are mounting a very traditional antimonopoly complaint here, and are seeking to showcase tactics like predatorily acquiring competitors and forcing adoption of Google’s own tools. Contrast this to previous antitrust cases, such as the Federal Trade Commission’s lawsuit against Meta that was thrown out in 2021 for failing to prove it held a social network monopoly—although that case has since been restored and is currently pending once again.

Unfortunately, any sort of concrete results are years away from materializing, thanks to the inevitably protracted legal battles. In the meantime, the digital advertising world will continue to adapt and shift, so consumers could be looking at an entirely different landscape once the final verdict actually arrives. Still, even if the Justice Dept. gets its way with only parts of its intended complete divestiture of the Google Ad Manager suite, the public could see Big Tech’s hold on the markets finally begin to loosen, as it would provide a template to go after other heavy hitters like Amazon and Meta.