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US Justice Department “preparing to launch” Google antitrust probe

The United States Justice Department is preparing to launch an antitrust investigation into Google, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

A report published by the newspaper on Friday (31 May) claimed officials are set to probe the tech giant’s search division, as well as other parts of its business.

While the Federal Trade Commission has forced Google to change aspects of its business practices in recent years, the company has historically faced more competition scrutiny in the EU than the US.

The European Commission’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, has handed the company a trio of fines totalling €8.2bn for breaching competition rules.

Most recently, Google was fined €1.49bn in March for exploiting its market position to undermine rivals. Vestager accused the company of imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third party websites for more than a decade.

Silicon Valley is facing growing pressure from American politicians in light of last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal and fears over the market dominance of firms such as Google, as well as Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

The US Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has called for the four firms to be broken up. Under her plans, Facebook would be forced to jettison Instagram and WhatsApp, while Google, Apple and Amazon would have to spin out marketplaces in which they sell their own products.

In the UK, a landmark review published in March called for the government to strengthen competition laws in order to crack down on the “bullying tactics” of US tech giants. “Competition is fundamental to ensuring the market works in the interest of consumers,” said the chancellor Philip Hammond. “But we know some tech giants are still accumulating too much power, preventing smaller businesses from entering the market.”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.