The Justice Department has in recent weeks conducted new interviews for its investigation into Google’s ad technology, a sign it may be moving closer to filing its second antitrust case against the company, said three people with knowledge of the matter.
The Justice Department for more than a year has investigated whether Google abuses its dominance over the interlocking technologies that deliver ads online. Its lawyers are now speaking again with publishers and Google’s competitors to gather new material, confirm evidence and test its legal theory ahead of a possible lawsuit, said the people, who were not authorized to discuss confidential matters.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bloomberg earlier reported the Justice Department meetings.
“The enormous competition in online advertising has made online ads more relevant, reduced ad tech fees and expanded options for publishers and advertisers,” said Peter Schottenfels, a Google spokesman.
On Aug. 31, U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York will hear Google’s motion to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit led by the State of Texas over the company’s ad tech practices. By waiting for a ruling on that matter, Justice Department officials could see what a judge thinks of the antitrust claims before proceeding with a lawsuit of their own, these people said.
Texas argues in its case that Google obtained and abused a monopoly over the digital advertising industry to manipulate auctions and generate profits far greater than those of rival ad exchanges. Those are the same issues that the Justice Department has been investigating, said people familiar with the investigation.
In 2020, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit arguing that Google had broken antimonopoly laws by abusing its power over online search. Later that year, the attorneys general of Texas and nine other states filed their own lawsuit focused on Google’s control of the display ad tech ecosystem, which is used by publishers like news outlets to sell ad space on their websites.
This summer, Google offered to resolve the Justice Department inquiry by moving its ad tech businesses into a separate unit under its parent company, Alphabet, according to a person with knowledge of the offer, which was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal. But the government was very skeptical of the offer, the person said.
Mr. Schottenfels said that Google was “engaging constructively with regulators to address their concerns” and “we have no plans to sell or exit this business.”