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Biden Finds Breaking Up Big Tech Is Hard To Do

 |  February 27, 2023

By Will Oremus, Cat Zakrzewski & Naomi Nix, The Washington Post

Google has been quietly assembling a phalanx of former Justice Department lawyers as the tech titan gears up for the regulatory fight of its life against the attorneys’ former employer.

The Department of Justice offensive, a pair of lawsuits aimed at breaking up the search giant’s dominance, will play out in the courts — reflecting a new phase in the Biden administration’s years-long effort to rein in Big Tech, after a sweeping antitrust package stalled in Congress.

When President Biden took office, he picked trustbusters to lead key agencies amid bipartisan calls to curtail the largest internet firms’ power overthe digital economy. But halfway through his term, the movement’s losses have outpaced its wins, key figures are stepping down and Republican control of the House has taken bills that could break up tech giants off the table.

Now the terrain has shifted from Congress to the courts. Last month, the Justice Department and eight states filed a suit aiming to break up Google’s lucrative ad business, while a 2020 suit filed under President Donald Trump alleging it monopolizes online search is headed for trial later this year.Meanwhile, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, an anti-monopoly crusader, is pursuing a suite of ambitious lawsuits aiming to break up Facebook parent Meta and block heavyweights such as Microsoft from gobbling up smaller firms, while seeking to rewrite federal rules on antitrust enforcement.And last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, a case that could weaken internet companies’ prized liability shield.

The antitrust reformers who cheered when Biden tapped Khan to chair the FTC, Jonathan Kanter to lead Justice’s antitrust division and leading Big Tech critic Tim Wu as a White House special assistantinsist their uphill push to rein in the world’s richest companies is still gaining traction, despite a string of high-profile setbacks. But the tech industry is willing to spend big to hold its ground. Andpersuading courts to rethink decades of business-friendly precedent presents achallenge as daunting aspushing legislation through a divided Congress.

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