News publisher files antitrust class action lawsuit against Google, claiming AI harms profits

A recent class action antitrust lawsuit has been filed against Google and its parent company, Alphabet, in the U.S. District Court in D.C. This legal action, initiated by the Arkansas-based publisher Helena World Chronicle on behalf of news publishers, alleges that Google engages in anticompetitive behavior, violating U.S. antitrust laws, including the Sherman Act. The lawsuit contends that Google’s practices result in the depletion of news publishers’ content, readership, and advertising revenue through anticompetitive means, specifically pointing to the detrimental impact of new AI technologies like Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) and Bard AI chatbot.

According to Helena World Chronicle, which owns and publishes two weekly newspapers in Arkansas, Google is accused of negatively impacting the free press by sharing publishers’ content on its platform, causing substantial financial losses estimated in the billions of dollars.

In addition to addressing new AI technologies, the lawsuit identifies older Google technologies, such as the “Knowledge Graph” launched in May 2012, as contributing to the problem. The complaint highlights the extraction of information from publishers’ websites and databases to compile a massive Knowledge Graph database, allegedly misappropriating content from publishers.

The lawsuit also points to other Google technologies, including “Featured Snippets,” where answers are algorithmically extracted from webpages, diverting traffic away from publishers’ websites.

The legal action emphasizes the potential impact of AI on publishers’ businesses, citing a report by The Wall Street Journal. The report suggests that integrating AI into Google’s search may lead to a significant reduction in click-throughs to publishers’ websites, with potential traffic losses ranging from 20% to 40%.

Helena World Chronicle claims that Google’s recent advances in AI-based search are designed to discourage users from visiting the websites of class members in the digital news and publishing industry. The complaint specifically addresses the Search Generative Experience (SGE), asserting that it keeps users within Google’s “walled garden” by allegedly plagiarizing content. The lawsuit notes the inability of publishers to block SGE, as it uses the same web crawler as Google’s general search service, GoogleBot.

The lawsuit further discusses Google’s Bard AI, trained on a dataset that includes news, magazine, and digital publications, referencing reports from the News Media Alliance and The Washington Post.

Additional concerns raised in the lawsuit include changing AdSense rates and evidence of improper spoliation of evidence by Google, including the destruction of chat messages, a matter also raised in the recent Epic Games lawsuit against Google over app store antitrust issues.

Apart from seeking damages, the lawsuit requests an injunction requiring Google to obtain consent from publishers to use their website data for training general artificial intelligence products. It also asks for measures allowing publishers opting out of SGE to still appear in Google search results.

This U.S. lawsuit follows a recent agreement between Google and the Canadian government, where Google agreed to pay Canadian media for content usage. The lawsuit coincides with the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against Google for monopolizing digital ad technologies and refers to the 2020 Justice Department’s civil antitrust suit over search and search advertising. IDIDIDIDIDID

A statement from the law firm handling the case, Hausfeld, emphasizes the alleged anticompetitive effects of Google’s practices on competition, consumers, labor, and a democratic free press. The plaintiff, Helena World Chronicle, seeks class-wide monetary and injunctive relief to restore and ensure competition in the digital news and reference publishing industry amid the evolving era of artificial intelligence. Google has been requested to comment, but as of now, no response has been provided.