(CNN Business) Justice Department investigators asked Google rival DuckDuckGo for detailed information on ways to increase competition in the online search market, an indication that Google’s Justice Department antitrust investigation was It has expanded to include its main product and that the agency may be approaching to take a case.
Federal officials met with DuckDuckGo several weeks ago to discuss a proposal that could increase user choice and alter Google’s market share for search, company founder Gabriel Weinberg told CNN Business.
DuckDuckGo has discussed the same proposal with state and congressional officials, who have their own separate investigations into Google, Weinberg said.
Marketed as a search engine that protects privacy, DuckDuckGo has called for a detailed preference panel on Android that allows users to select a different default search provider. For years, Google search had been the default on Android, which runs on over 80% of phones worldwide. In the United States, it still is. But a 2018 antitrust sanction by the European Union has led Google to offer other options to users. The DuckDuckGo proposal expands on Google’s own plan with several modifications.
In the United States, where talking about breaking Google and other tech giants has been politically divisive, solutions like a menu of search preferences could improve competition without the need for a lengthy court battle, Weinberg told CNN. Google had a 73% share of search advertising revenue last year, according to eMarketer.
“If you try to break Google, it will take time and effort, and it may not be successful,” he said. “What we are trying to propose is a sweet spot … Check many boxes.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Google, in a statement, said it continues to cooperate with state and federal investigations, but declined to comment on DuckDuckGo. “Our focus is firmly on providing services that help consumers, support thousands of companies and allow for greater choice and competition,” said Julie Tarallo McAlister, Google spokeswoman.
Experts say the Justice Department’s interest in the DuckDuckGo proposal highlights how far the antitrust investigation has progressed, experts say, suggesting that regulators have identified specific ways in which it believes Google may be hurting competition and now They are evaluating possible solutions.
“Practically speaking, it is very common, when you get to the point of seriously thinking that you can go ahead with a case, that you have to ask yourself how you are going to land the plane,” said Gene Kimmelman, senior advisor to consumer advocacy group Public. Knowledge and a former Justice Department antitrust official. “You have to make sure you have the landing gear working, otherwise you’re going to crash and burn.”
Questions directed at DuckDuckGo underscore the seriousness and scope of the investigation, Kimmelman said.
Attorney General William Barr previously told the Wall Street Journal that he hopes Google’s investigation can “be done” this summer.
This is not the first time that Google has come under antitrust scrutiny from the United States. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission also examined the company’s search and advertising businesses. But despite a partially leaked staff note that some within the agency favored taking Google to court, the FTC ultimately closed the investigation without lawsuit.