Google, Facebook facing more antitrust lawsuits in coming weeks

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Google and Facebook are expected to face new antitrust lawsuits in the United States by the end of January, a report claims, with continued investigations into the activities of tech giants still potentially putting Apple into the firing line of future lawsuit attempts.

Up to four new lawsuits are apparently being readied against Google or Facebook and could launch in the coming weeks or after the holidays, people familiar with the attempts claim. Details of the lawsuits are unknown, but they are believed to be on the way from both federal and state antitrust authorities.

Sources of the Wall Street Journal advise the lawsuits will be based on probes at federal and state levels over Google's search and advertising dominance, as well as Facebook's social media control.

The lawsuits follow shortly after the Justice Department launched its own suit against Google in October, aiming at Google's search business. It was suggested Google abused its position to become a "gatekeeper" to the Internet, by making arrangements to ensure its search service was used by consumers instead of competitors, such as by paying for prominent placement in browsers and agreements relating to Android.

A coalition of state attorneys general are said to be trying to file an antitrust suit against Google over its advertising business and the 2008 purchase of DoubleClick. Such acquisitions helped Google dominate online advertising, making it harder for other firms to directly compete.

The FTC is said to be getting close to receiving approval for its antitrust suit against Facebook, namely whether the acquisitions of companies like Instagram and WhatsApp stifled competition. The delay in approval is partly caused through deciding whether to use the FTC's administrative court or a district court, as the latter could potentially allow the FTC's suit to be joined with one from state attorneys general.

If the antitrust lawsuit is levied against Facebook, this would be the first such action by the US government against the social media giant.

The potential lawsuits are a cause for worry for Apple and Amazon, two of the other tech giants that are being scrutinized for antitrust violations. While Amazon has been held to the fire over its retail operations, Apple has previously been accused by the US House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust for enjoying monopoly power with its App Store rules.

For both companies, an increase in antitrust lawsuits against the other tech giants in the current climate could be a precursor to other lawsuits heading their way later on.

William Kovacic, a former FTC chairman, suggests the increased likelihood of the lawsuits reflects the growing concern of politicians over tech companies, which could embolden the antitrust authorities to work without worrying about political pressure form the companies themselves.

"The supportive chorus of elected officials is giving assurance to the DOJ and the FTC that they have the political support they need to blunt [the companies'] efforts... to pressure the agencies to back off or water down their cases," proposes Kovacic.

If more lawsuits arrive against Apple, they will join a long list of other activities and accusations taking place against the iPhone maker around the world.