The US Department of Justice is preparing an antitrust investigation into Google in a sign the regulatory pressure on the search giant is rising after years of competition scrutiny in Europe.
The justice department recently won jurisdiction for a probe into the company from the Federal Trade Commission, according to people familiar with the matter.
The FTC shares responsibility for antitrust enforcement in the US and the two agencies must confer before either begins an investigation.
The commission previously investigated Google for possible antitrust violations but settled in 2013 without taking major action against the company.
It was not immediately clear what the justice department was looking into. Its inquiries are likely to be in their earliest stages, according to US antitrust lawyers not involved in the case.
Google declined to comment. The justice department declined to comment. The FTC did not immediately return a request for comment. The Wall Street Journal first reported news of the investigation on Friday.
Google’s rivals have long lobbied US antitrust enforcers to take action against the company, but they have had less success than in Europe, where the European Commission has levied huge fines and demanded changes to parts of Google’s business model.
In recent weeks, the FTC has told complainants to take their cases to the justice department, according to the people familiar with the matter.
“For the good of consumers and competition on the internet, we welcome any renewed interest by US regulators into Google’s anti-competitive behaviour,” said Stephen Kaufer, the chief executive of TripAdvisor.
Democrats have repeatedly called for action against big Silicon Valley companies like Google, with Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator and presidential candidate, vowing to “break up big tech” if she is elected president in 2020.
Criticism has also come from Republicans wary of the power internet companies hold over online communications.
Makan Delrahim, who heads the antitrust division at the justice department and previously lobbied for Google when it acquired DoubleClick in 2007, has warned against criticising US internet giants for being too big.
In a speech in February, he argued that they “provide innovative and disruptive services that consumers seem to like and want to use”.
“In my view, it’s no accident, and a point of pride, that a majority of these leading platforms are American companies,” he said.
However, he has also pointed to the US case against Microsoft in the 1990s as a model of the government using documentary evidence to challenge a company that had abused its monopoly power.
“Is that the type of practice that is happening with a Google or anybody else?” he told the Financial Times last year. “That will be the type of theory we would look to and look for that kind of evidence to examine any type of anti-competitive practice.”