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Justice Department takes aim at Google Chrome for potential big-tech breakup

Google Chrome on a MacBook Pro

Google could be forced to split its Chrome browser from the core company by the US Department for Justice based on the results of an antitrust probem, as part of lawsuits expected to be launched in the coming weeks.

Preparation work for the lawsuits could lead to a court-ordered breakup of Google's business, the first in a number of centuries in the United States, with the search giant's main revenue sources being put at risk. As part of the discussions, the Justice Department and state prosecutors currently investigating Google over antitrust issues are considering making Google get rid of both its browser and parts of the advertising business it controls.

Sources with knowledge of talks advised to Politico of the discussions, but no final decisions on what course of action to recommend have been made. Investigators have taken the opportunity to ask the opinions of experts and competitors in the online advertising industry for advice, to work out how to reduce Google's dominant control in the field, with some pointing to the sale of Chrome being a potential outcome.

Part of the criticism for Chrome is due to its dominance in the browser market, making up some 60% of desktop browsers and 37% of mobile browser use in the United States. With such a sizable audience, the impact of initiatives affecting advertising by Google are effectively considered an industry standard.

As Google also operates a major search business, its dominance in both fields led to criticisms that it could use web histories of Chrome users to enhance its advertising business. In July, Google said it would phase out third-party cookie use in Chrome over two years, under the claim it would enhance consumer privacy, though such a move would also affect online advertising in the long run.

While non-Google marketing firms would be heavily impacted by the phasing out of third-party cookies, which are used to track advertising effectiveness, Google's ability to gain similar data from Chrome directly would enable it to continue such tracking, giving it a major advantage.

At the same time, the Department of Justice is also working on an antitrust lawsuit against Google over its control of online search, one which could be filed before the end of the month.

The news of potential legal action against Google arrives a week after the US House of Representatives were said to recommended the break-up of major tech companies like Google, including Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Following a series of hearings on antitrust in tech, a report from the House antitrust subcommittee points to companies like Apple and Google having tremendous power in the market, and that changes have to be made.

Apple has had to deal with many antitrust lawsuits in recent years, but it remains to be seen how a recommendation for breakup would affect the company and its various businesses.