Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Is Likely to Face a Serious Threat to Its Integrity as State Attorney Generals Favor Breaking up Its Ad Tech Business

Jun 5, 2020 14:56 EDT
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Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is currently facing the most serious regulatory threat of its corporate life that now spans over two decades. As a part of a broad antitrust investigation against Google, state attorney generals are purportedly leaning toward breaking up the search behemoth’s ad tech business.

As a refresher, detractors of Google’s ever-growing heft continue to point out that the search giant has structured its ad tools in such a manner so as to make it virtually impossible for a third party to offer any viable competition. To wit, these critics argue that Google’s mammoth search engine along with its control over YouTube, Gmail, and a host of other services hurt the proliferation of healthy competition. These people further allege that Google now controls virtually every aspect of the entire mechanism through which ads are bought and sold, substantially reducing the negotiation power of the customers in the process.

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For its part, Google has continued to assert that it is not the sole corporation in America currently enjoying vertical integration, pointing to the likes of AT&T (NYSE:T), Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), and Verizon (NYSE:VZ). Moreover, as per the data available from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the cost of digital advertisement has declined by 40 percent since 2010, weakening the case for an overwhelming evaporation of the negotiation power of Google’s customers.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. As per the CNBC’s reporting on this matter, the state attorney generals have as yet not decided upon a definitive course of action. However, the prevailing sentiment is largely to the detriment of Google. Currently, these attorney generals are debating whether to impose, via a lawsuit, restrictions on the manner in which Google conducts its ad-related operations or to seek a complete breakup of its ad tech business. It should be noted that the final version of a lawsuit may well include remedial measures that fall somewhere in between these two options.

Even so, the recent action by regulatory agencies lends credence to a greater probability for the imposition of operational restrictions rather than an outright dissolution of Google’s ad tech business. While the regulators did achieve disintegration of Standard Oil in 1911 and AT&T in the 1980s, IBM and Microsoft – that experienced a similar anticompetitive probe in recent times – managed to escape this fate.

Moreover, the dissolution of Google’s ad tech business will likely be difficult to achieve as it does not exist as an autonomous unit. Rather, it is the product of two primary acquisitions over a decade ago – DoubleClick in 2007 and AdMob in 2009.

While Google primarily relies on advertisements for revenue, the ad tech unit provides relatively modest contributions to its top-line metric. As an illustration, AdMob, AdSense, and Google Ad Manager generated around $22 billion in revenue during FY 2019. For comparison, Google’s total revenue for the year stood at a whopping $161 billion.

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As we have previously reported, fifty state attorney generals have been investigating Google’s allegedly anti-competitive practices for a while now. Consequently, a pertinent lawsuit against Google is now widely expected to materialize within a matter of months. Of course, the Department of Justice is also conducting its own investigation against the tech behemoths, including Google, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).

The current political temperature in Washington may prove to be the decisive straw against Google. For instance, President Trump has repeatedly claimed that Google and other tech giants censor conservative voices. Similarly, the Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden has also expressed willingness to investigate the mega-mergers of the past that allowed today’s tech giants to flourish unimpeded.

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