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Google accused of abusing market power in landmark US case

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The U.S. Justice Department sued Alphabet Inc.’s Google, accusing it of abusing its monopoly in search in the most significant antitrust action against an American company in more than two decades, with more action by states likely to follow.

Google, which controls about 90 per cent of the online search market in the U.S., is the “unchallenged gateway” to the internet and engaged in a variety of anticompetitive practices to maintain and extend its monopoly, the government said in a complaint filed Tuesday in Washington. The company has used exclusive deals costing billions of dollars to dominate search and lock out competition from rivals, the U.S. said.

“No one can feasibly challenge Google’s dominance in search and search advertising,” Attorney General William Barr said. “If we let Google continue its anticompetitive ways, we will lose the next wave of innovators and Americans may never get to benefit from the ‘next Google.’”

The complaint is the first phase of what’s shaping up as a multi-pronged attack against Google. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is preparing a complaint against the company over its conduct in the digital-advertising market, where it controls much of the technology used by advertisers and publishers to buy and sell display ads across the web. A separate group of states, including Colorado and Iowa, is investigating Google’s search practices and said their probe will conclude in the coming weeks.

Investors brushed off the complaint, which has been expected for weeks. Alphabet shares rose 2.6 per cent to US$1,569.73 at 3:02 p.m. in New York trading. Mark Shmulik, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, told investors that the firm sees “limited risk” to Google from the suit.

Google’s search business generates most of the company’s revenue and has funded its expansion into email, online video, smartphone software, maps, cloud computing, autonomous vehicles and display advertising. The search engine influences the fates of thousands of businesses online, which depend on Google to get in front of users.

Google called the government’s case “deeply flawed” and said it would actually hurt consumers because it would “artificially prop up” lower-quality search options and raise phone prices.

“People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives,” Google Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker said in a blog post in response to the complaint.

Walker likened Google’s distribution agreements with phone makers and wireless carriers to the way a cereal brand would pay a supermarket to stock its products on a shelf at eye level. Other search engines are able to compete with Google for those deals, he said. Users can also easily switch to other search engines on desktops and phones, Walker wrote.

“This isn’t the dial-up 1990s, when changing services was slow and difficult, and often required you to buy and install software with a CD-ROM,” he said. “Today, you can easily download your choice of apps or change your default settings in a matter of seconds—faster than you can walk to another aisle in the grocery store.”

Google began dominating online search 20 years ago with an algorithm that delivered better results than those of its rivals. Since then it has also relied on its own products, like its Android mobile operating system, and exclusive agreements with device makers and mobile carriers to be the default search option for millions of users. That’s given it an insurmountable advantage over rivals, according to the government.

The exclusive agreements with phone makers like Apple Inc. and wireless carriers like Verizon Communications Inc. deny rivals the scale and distribution they need to compete against Google in search, the U.S. said. Google monetizes its dominance in search by selling advertising, which it uses to pay for the exclusive deals. Those payments create a strong disincentive for distributors to switch to another service, according to the complaint.

“Through these exclusionary payoffs, and the other anticompetitive conduct described below, Google has created continuous and self-reinforcing monopolies in multiple markets,” the U.S. said.

In a briefing with reporters, Justice Department officials declined to discuss what specific remedies the government would seek. It would be up to a federal court judge to decide what remedy to impose, including whether to order a breakup of Google’s businesses.

“At a minimum this would require stopping that conduct, but additional relief may be necessary,” said Alex Okuliar, the department’s deputy for civil antitrust.

The Justice Department’s case, which Texas and 10 other states joined, is the first to emerge from an investigation of some of the largest technology companies initiated by Barr 15 months ago. It’s the most significant antitrust lawsuit since the U.S. filed a case against Microsoft Corp. in 1998 and marks a seismic shift away from the government’s mostly laissez-faire approach toward America’s tech giants.

While it’s not illegal to be a monopoly under U.S. law, it’s a violation for a dominant company to engage in exclusionary conduct to protect or strengthen its market power.

Barr had championed the Google case by giving it a high priority and assigning his No. 2 to oversee it. Yet as his department filed the long-awaited lawsuit in federal court, Barr was off preparing to speak on law and order in Marco Island, Florida. Barr has taken a low profile since President Donald Trump, starting about two weeks ago, began pushing him to prosecute his political enemies. On Tuesday, Trump demanded that Barr investigate Hunter Biden.

The Google cases by the Justice Department and the state attorneys general could be followed by a Federal Trade Commission case later this year against Facebook Inc. joined by state attorneys general. In Congress, Representative David Cicilline intends to push legislation to curb the dominance of tech giants following findings of an investigation that Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.com Inc. abused their power as gatekeepers in the digital economy.

Cicilline, the Rhode Island Democrat who led the House’s investigation of competition in big tech, called the action “long overdue.”

The combined challenges could upend how the companies do business. If the government prevails, one or more of the tech goliaths could even be broken up — reminiscent of the way the antitrust crusades of the early 20th century led to the breakup of Standard Oil in 1911.

Trump has repeatedly railed against U.S. tech firms, exposing the Justice Department to criticism that the case against Google is politically motivated. Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Tuesday the White House has been “consulting” with the Justice Department about the Google case.

It will likely be more than a year before the lawsuit goes to trial — if it’s not settled first. That could mean a Joe Biden administration will be responsible for continuing the case if the former vice president defeats Trump in November. While Biden has yet to detail his thinking on antitrust, his campaign is talking to proponents of more aggressive enforcement than existed under former President Barack Obama. Many Democratic lawmakers are also concerned about the need for stepped-up antitrust enforcement of large technology companies.

Google is expected to put up a fight and will be able to spare no expense with its defense. Its parent, Alphabet, is one of the world’s wealthiest companies with a market value of about US$1 trillion and projected 2020 sales of US$142 billion.

In hearings and court filings, the company has said it faces robust rivals in all its markets. It has argued that competition has helped lower the cost of online ads in recent years, and it has highlighted the money it makes for publishers and small businesses.

The House antitrust report found that Google has been able to build barriers to competition by becoming the default search engine on desktop and mobile internet browsers. In desktop browsers, Google search has default placement on Google Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Mozilla Corp.’s Firefox, amounting to 87 per cent of the market, according to the report.

In mobile, Google search controls essentially the entire market because it’s the default search on its Android operating system and Apple’s iOS operating system. It pays Apple roughly US$8 billion a year for the privilege, according to estimates by analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. And that’s not the only such agreement. Google also has deals with Mozilla’s Firefox as well as phone makers including Samsung Electronics Co.

While Europe has aggressively targeted the U.S.’s tech champions, particularly Google, for anticompetitive behavior, American enforcers have largely given them free rein. The FTC closed a previous Google inquiry in 2013 after two years without taking action. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft have completed hundreds of acquisitions over the last decade, none of which have been blocked by merger cops.

The case against Microsoft, which accused the software giant of illegally monopolizing the market for computer operating systems, was brought under former president Bill Clinton and nearly led to the company’s breakup.

A federal district court judge ruled that Microsoft should be split up for having tied its internet browser to its Windows operating system — strangling competitors. But an appeals court reversed that ruling and the Justice Department settled the case under the George W. Bush administration.

Still, legal experts have said that by pinning Microsoft down for several years with the investigation and ensuing litigation, the U.S. made it possible for a new crop of tech companies like Google to emerge and thrive.

There are parallels between today’s widespread anti-big-tech sentiment and the Progressive Era push that lead to the breakup of Standard Oil. Oil was to the industrial base of the economy in the early 20th century, what data is to the 21st century economy.

The John D. Rockefeller empire began as a small refinery, but grew through acquisitions to control 90 per cent of U.S. oil production, refining and transportation. Along the way, Rockefeller amassed huge amounts of economic power, as did steel and railroad magnates. That also led to the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 and ultimately Standard Oil’s dissolution.

Google, likewise, began as a small search engine and grew quickly through acquisitions such as YouTube in 2006 and the DoubleClick digital advertising company in 2007 to control vast swaths of the digital advertising ecosystem. Google also stockpiled immense troves of data — decades’ worth of consumer and business buying preferences and surfing habits — deepening its economic grip and making it harder for new entrants to challenge it.

Source: – BNN

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Are you worried that people in other countries might get a COVID-19 vaccine first? – Castanet.net

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A new poll suggests most Canadians aren’t currently worried that people in other countries might get a COVID-19 vaccine first.

Thirty-seven per cent of respondents to a survey conducted by Léger and the Association for Canadian Studies say they are very concerned that Canada may not receive doses of a new COVID vaccine as early as the United States.

“That’s not necessarily low, but I think most pundits would have expected this number to be much higher,” said Léger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

Meanwhile, 48 per cent say they are not concerned about getting a vaccine first and 10 per cent say they don’t care at all or are not planning to get vaccinated anyway.

Getting a vaccine before other countries doesn’t seem to be “a major (issue for the Liberal government), which is contrary to what we might have thought … when the prime minister actually said that we would not be the first ones to get doses,” Bourque said.

The amount of concern regarding getting a COVID-19 vaccine first varies along party lines, with 45 per cent of self-identified Conservative supporters saying they are very concerned that Canada may not receive doses of a new COVID vaccine at the same time as other countries. Only 38 per cent of Liberal supporters say they are concerned.

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Covid vaccinations to begin this month; gov't buys 34mn doses from Pfizer – Mexico News Daily

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The federal government has struck a deal with the United States pharmaceutical company Pfizer to buy more than 34 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, the first 250,000 of which are expected to arrive in Mexico this month.

The Health Ministry announced on Twitter that Health Minister Jorge Alcocer signed an agreement with Pfizer on Wednesday for the manufacture and supply of 34.4 million doses of the vaccine it developed with Germany’s BioNTech. The vaccine was 95% effective in phase 3 trials and caused no serious safety concerns, Pfizer said in November.

“The expectation is to receive 250,000 doses this month to protect Mexicans,” the Health Ministry said, adding that the inoculation of health workers will be a priority.

President López Obrador said earlier on Wednesday that the government had allocated 20 billion pesos (just under US $1 billion) for an initial purchase of Covid-19 vaccines, adding that Mexico has purchase agreements with companies other than Pfizer.

“The authorization process at [health regulator] Cofepris is being simplified,” he said.

Health Minister Jorge Alcocer signs agreement to purchase the coronavirus vaccine.
Health Minister Jorge Alcocer signs agreement to purchase the coronavirus vaccine.

Mexico’s agreement with Pfizer comes the same day as regulators in the United Kingdom granted emergency authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The rollout in the U.K, the first western nation to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, is scheduled to begin next week, with priority given to the elderly and their caregivers.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard acknowledged the U.K. approval in a Twitter post and said that Cofepris has already received an application for authorization here.

“The United Kingdom has authorized the vaccine developed by Pfizer. In Mexico the regulatory authority (Health Ministry-Cofepris) already has the corresponding application. What many people imagined was impossible is now a reality: vaccination is about to begin in December 2020,” he wrote.

Ebrard said last week that Pfizer would be responsible for transporting the vaccines – which have to be kept at -70 C – to the point at which they will be administered while the Health Ministry will be responsible for inoculation.

Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, the government’s coronavirus point man, said Tuesday that the military will assist in the vaccination process.

The vaccines ordered will be enough to inoculate 17.2 million people as each person must be given two shots 21 days apart. With only 250,000 doses expected to arrive this month, just 125,000 Mexicans – about 0.1% of the population – will be able to be vaccinated by the end of the year.

Nevertheless, the news that a vaccine is on the way is undoubtedly good news for Mexico, which has been hit harder by the pandemic than most other countries around the world.

The accumulated case tally rose to 1,122,362 on Tuesday with 8,819 new cases reported by the Health Ministry. The total is the 11th highest in the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

An additional 825 Covid-19 fatalities registered by health authorities lifted Mexico’s official pandemic death toll to 106,765, the fourth highest in the world after the United States, Brazil and India.

The case tally and death toll are widely believed to be much higher because Mexico has not tested widely for Covid-19.

Source: El Economista (sp), CNN (en) 

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Canada posts deadliest day of coronavirus pandemic since June as vaccine hopes rise – Global News

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Newly-identified cases of the novel coronavirus surged past the 6,000 mark in Canada again on Wednesday as the country identified its highest increase in COVID-19 deaths since early June.

The new cases, which totaled 6,302, brought Canada’s caseload to 389,436. Health authorities also reported an increase of 114 deaths, though only 80 of those fatalities occurred in the past 24 hours.

The last time cases surpassed 110 was on June 4, which saw 139 deaths reported to have been caused by the virus.

Read more:
Liberals introduce coronavirus spending bill days after unveiling economic update

Canada’s death toll from COVID-19 now stands at 12,325, while over 309,000 patients have since recovered and another 14.8 million tests have been administered so far.

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As Canadian communities continue to grapple with surges in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Canada’s chief public health officer said the priority list of people to get the coronavirus vaccine would have to be refined further, due to the initial six million doses not being enough to inoculate them all.


Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Tam says priority list for first COVID-19 vaccinations being refined'



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Coronavirus: Tam says priority list for first COVID-19 vaccinations being refined


Coronavirus: Tam says priority list for first COVID-19 vaccinations being refined

As of now, Canada is set to receive four million doses from Pfizer and two million from Moderna within the first quarter of 2021. The amount would only be enough to vaccinate three million people, however, as a person would need two doses of the vaccine in order for it to be effective.

Tam hinted that the variety and supply of doses was expected to increase soon due to Canada having contracts for three more vaccines that are in late-state clinical trials, having said that “means we will have more flexibility as time goes on, and more and more vaccines come on board.”

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“We’re expecting that in the second quarter. Depending on the approvals of the vaccines, we will have different amounts, but that is when the supply will become more and more plentiful,” said Tam Wednesday during a virtual speech at the 2020 Canadian Immunization Conference.

Canada’s health minister also said on Wednesday that the country’s review of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine was “expected to be completed soon” — comments that come shortly after news of the U.K. officially approving the vaccine.

“The news that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved in the U.K. is encouraging. Health Canada’s review of this candidate is ongoing, and is expected to be completed soon,” said Patty Hadju.

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“Making sure a COVID-19 vaccine is safe before approving it is Health Canada’s priority, and when a vaccine is ready, Canada will be ready.”


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Coronavirus: U.K.’s Johnson stresses global co-operation following approval of Pfizer vaccine


Coronavirus: U.K.’s Johnson stresses global co-operation following approval of Pfizer vaccine

During the conference, Tam also revealed plans from the Public Health Agency of Canada to combat the increase in misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine using online webinars. According to her, the webinars would include several topics like the different types of vaccines available, how to run immunization clinics and guidance on how to use vaccines.

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“Because of the social media and its internet age, we’ve got even more of a challenge on our hands than anyone else in tackling pandemics of the past,” said Tam, who also noted the importance of Canadians knowing how vaccines are developed

The federal government also introduced a new COVID-19 spending bill Wednesday, just days after revealing the country’s economic update.

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The bill, which would effectively determine how billions of dollars in new pandemic-related aid would be spent, would follow the measures proposed in Monday’s fall economic statement.


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‘Take this seriously’: 23-year-old suffers stroke due to COVID-19


‘Take this seriously’: 23-year-old suffers stroke due to COVID-19

Several provinces across Canada also reported surges in new coronavirus cases Wednesday, with Ontario, Alberta and Quebec all reporting over 1,500 newly reported infections.

Ontario added the highest increase of 1,723 cases, pushing its total caseload to 119,922. Another 35 deaths were also reported by the province, which now has 656 people in hospital due to COVID-19.

Alberta added 1,685 more infections on Wednesday as well as 10 additional deaths. The new data also comes amid an announcement from Premier Jason Kenney that the province expects its first doses of the coronavirus vaccine to arrive by Jan 4.

“While we can’t control when these vaccines arrive in Alberta, we can make sure that when we get them, we’re ready to roll them out as quickly as we can,” said Kenny during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. To date, Alberta has seen a total of 61,169 virus cases and 561 deaths.

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Quebec added another 43 deaths on Wednesday, of which only nine occurred within the past 24 hours. The fatalities bring the province’s death toll to 7,125, while health authorities reported an additional 1,514 cases Wednesday.

British Columbia added 830 cases as well, pushing the province’s caseload to 34,728. A total of 338 cases are considered “epi-linked,’ which are cases that show symptoms and were close contacts of confirmed infections, but were never tested.

Read more:
Canada’s review of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine will be completed ‘soon,’ health minister says

Saskatchewan announced 237 cases and Manitoba another 277, bringing their total case figures to 8,982 and 17,384, respectively.

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick added another six cases while Newfoundland and Labrador reported just one. Nova Scotia reported an increase of 17 cases Wednesday, pushing its total infections to 1,332.

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The Yukon added one more cases on Wednesday, while Nunavut added another 11. The Northwest Territories did not report any additional cases.


Click to play video 'Looking at widely praised coronavirus messages  from around the world'



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Looking at widely praised coronavirus messages from around the world


Looking at widely praised coronavirus messages from around the world

Nunavut’s government also lifted its two-week lockdown on Wednesday everywhere except for the coastal town of Arviat, of which saw all 11 new cases reported by the province. To date, Nunavut has seen 193 cases of the novel coronavirus — the highest among Canada’s territories.

Cases of the coronavirus have since surpassed 64.4 million according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. A total of 1,491,000 people have also succumbed to the virus, with the United States, Brazil and India leading in both cases and deaths.

With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun and The Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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