Most Aggressive Move Against Tech Giants in Decades

Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times

The Justice Department accused Google of maintaining an illegal monopoly over search and search advertising, in the government’s most significant legal challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation.

In a lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, the agency accused Google, a unit of Alphabet, of using several exclusive business contracts and agreements to lock out competition.

Such contracts include Google’s payment of billions of dollars to Apple to place the Google search engine as the default for iPhones. By using contracts to maintain its monopoly, the suit says, competition and innovation has suffered.

Attorney General William P. Barr, who was appointed by Mr. Trump, has played an unusually active role in the investigation. He pushed career Justice Department attorneys to bring the case by the end of September, prompting pushback from lawyers who wanted more time and complained of political influence. Mr. Barr has spoken publicly about the inquiry for months and set tight deadlines for the prosecutors leading the effort.

The lawsuit may stretch on for years and could set off a cascade of other antitrust lawsuits from state attorneys general. About four dozen states and jurisdictions have conducted parallel investigations and are expected to bring separate complaints against the company’s grip on technology for online advertising.

A victory for the government could remake one of America’s most recognizable companies and the internet economy that it has helped define since it was founded by two Stanford University graduate students in 1998.

But Google has long denied accusations of antitrust violations and is expected to fight the government’s efforts by using a global network of lawyers, economists and lobbyists. Alphabet, valued at $1.04 trillion and with cash reserves of $120 billion, has fought similar antitrust lawsuits in Europe.

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California set a Tuesday deadline for a compromise stimulus deal that could be considered before the election.

She instructed key Democratic lawmakers on Monday to work with top Republicans to try to resolve critical differences holding up a broad agreement with the Trump administration.

The directive came after she and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, held their latest talks, speaking for nearly an hour by phone. The two “continued to narrow their differences,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi. He added that “the speaker continues to hope that, by the end of the day Tuesday, we will have clarity on whether we will be able to pass a bill before the election.”

The odds of a last-minute deal remain long, with Democrats and the Trump administration still haggling over funding levels and policy issues. Even if they could agree, Senate Republicans have all but ruled out embracing a plan anywhere near as large as the more than $2 trillion package under discussion.

If such a deal were struck, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said the chamber would consider it, but he also made a point of scheduling two separate votes in the coming days on narrower bills of the kind senators in his party are more willing to accept. One would revive a lapsed federal loan program for small businesses and the other would provide $500 billion for schools, testing and expired unemployment benefits.

President Trump has insisted in recent days that he wants to spend more than the $2.4 trillion Ms. Pelosi has put forward in negotiations, and claimed he could easily cajole enough Senate Republicans into supporting an agreement of that size — a notion that many of them have told his top deputies would never happen.

In a private call with Democrats on Monday, Ms. Pelosi outlined a number of remaining areas of disagreement, including Democratic demands for hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for state and local governments, support for restaurants devastated by the pandemic and additional health provisions, according to a person on the call, who disclosed the details on condition of anonymity. Democrats also remain wary that the administration would spend the funds as Congress intended.

Still, Ms. Pelosi insisted she was optimistic a bargain could be reached and said she was intent on reaching one before a new Democratic administration began in January.

“I don’t want to carry over the droppings of this grotesque elephant into the next presidency,” Ms. Pelosi told her members. “We’ve got to get something big, and we’ve got to get it done soon and we’ve got to get it done right.”

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  • U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday, the day Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set as a deadline for reaching an agreement with Republicans on an economic stimulus package. The S&P 500 was up nearly half a percent in early trading.

  • Stock indexes in Europe and Asia were mixed. The Stoxx Europe 600 index wavered between gains and losses. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index closed 0.4 percent lower. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index ended the day 0.1 percent higher.

  • Oil prices were little changed, with futures in West Texas Intermediate falling 0.2 percent and Brent crude staying flat, as analysts speculated about whether OPEC would restart production it cut earlier in the year in response to weaker demand.

  • Even with Ms. Pelosi’s instructions to work toward a deal, the odds of a last-minute agreement between Democrats and the Trump administration remain long. If differences over funding levels and policy issues could be resolved, there are still Senate Republicans to contend with, who are unlikely to approve a spending package as large as the one under discussion. On Monday, the S&P 500 index dropped 1.6 percent.

  • Some European stock indexes were pushed higher on Tuesday by a spate of positive earnings, which helped quell anxiety in markets about rising coronavirus cases and new social restrictions, including national lockdowns in Ireland and Wales. Reckitt Benckiser, the British owner of cleaning brands such as Dettol and Lysol, reported a jump in revenue on Tuesday. Logitech, which makes other computer hardware such as keyboards, said its quarterly sales exceeded $1 billion for the first time in the three months that ended in September. Logitech’s share price jumped more than 20 percent in European markets.

  • Shares in the Swiss bank UBS rose 2.5 percent after the firm said its profit nearly doubled in the third quarter compared to a year ago, because of an increase in trading revenues and growth in its wealth management business. The gains follow a similar pattern on Wall Street, where banks saw increases in trading offsetting a slump in their consumer businesses. UBS said it would give “less senior” employees a one-off bonus equal to one week’s pay, which it expects to cost about $30 million.

Credit…Justin Tallis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

While Britain struggles to get its national test-and-trace system running more efficiently, travelers will be able to get rapid coronavirus tests at an airport for the first time. Fliers leaving Heathrow Airport in London can get a rapid test for 80 pounds ($104). Starting Tuesday, people going to Hong Kong can take a pre-departure test to meet entry requirements there, the airport said.

The service will initially be offered for four weeks and passengers must book it ahead of time. The tests will be done by private-sector nurses, with results expected within an hour.

Heathrow, Britain’s largest airport, has been urging the government to allow it to offer more testing, particularly to arrivals, in an effort to boost travel. Heathrow argues that on-site testing would limit the need for two-week quarantines for people arriving in Britain. Government ministers have disagreed.

As an international hub, Heathrow Airport typically sees more than 80 million passengers a year. But during the pandemic, governments have introduced a range of travel restrictions, and passengers have been wary of venturing too far from home, causing overseas travel to plummet. The airport said 1.2 million passengers traveled through it in September, down 82 percent compared with 2019.

Heathrow hopes its new program could be the start of a more expansive testing regime in the airport. For now, the airport will offer a test known as LAMP, which is not as sensitive as PCR testing, used by the country’s national health service. PCR tests can detect active infections even before symptoms appear, though with a daylong turnaround. Heathrow plans to add antigen tests, another type of rapid testing, later.

The airport also said that travelers to Italy would be able to use the test, but Collinson, one of the companies administering the plan, said it was still in talks with the Italian government, the BBC reported.

Credit…Ralph Orlowski/Reuters

The German auto industry is bouncing back strongly from the pandemic as customers make purchases they postponed earlier in the year, earnings reports by BMW and Daimler indicate. Strong economic growth in China, a crucial market for both vehicle makers, has also helped.

But analysts say the miniboom may not last. Infections in Europe and the United States are surging, endangering sales in those two essential car markets. The profit figures “look too good to be sustainable,” Tim Rokossa, an analyst at Deutsche Bank, said in a note, referring to Daimler.

BMW said late Monday that its free cash flow, a measure of profit, quadrupled to 3 billion euros, or $3.6 billion, in the third quarter compared to the same period last year. Daimler said last week that operating profit rose to €3 billion in the quarter from €2.7 billion a year earlier.

Neither company disclosed net profit in the preliminary earnings reports. Daimler will issue a detailed earnings report on Friday and BMW will do so on Nov. 4.

German carmakers have a strong influence on the economic fate of Europe. Cars and trucks are Germany’s biggest export, and German carmakers buy components from all over the continent.

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently settled a case that may have major implications for publicly traded companies, notes today’s DealBook newsletter. The regulator imposed a fine over a stock buyback by the energy company Andeavor, introducing an unexpected accounting wrinkle to the repurchase process that experts say companies have probably not considered before.

Late in negotiations to sell itself to Marathon Petroleum in 2018, Andeavor announced a $250 million buyback, repurchasing 2.6 million shares at an average price of $97 each. Shortly afterward, Andeavor announced a deal with Marathon that valued its stock at more than $150 per share.

The S.E.C. punished the move by applying an accounting rule in an unforeseen way. The regulator found that the buyback was initiated when Andeavor had material nonpublic information that wasn’t disclosed to shareholders. But instead of charging the company or executives with fraud or insider trading, it “zeroed in on the company’s accounting controls, and found them inadequate to ensure compliance” with Andeavor’s own rules about buybacks, according to lawyers at Davis Polk. Andeavor admitted no wrongdoing and agreed to pay a $20 million penalty.

Buybacks were already under increased political and regulatory scrutiny. Now, there is a new accounting twist, adding extra concerns over internal controls. “The process of approving a buyback now seems more complicated than it was a day before the case came out,” said Robert Cohen, a partner at Davis Polk and a former S.E.C. enforcement lawyer.

Credit…Lido Vizzutti for The New York Times

In a small business district in Montana, owners are trying to navigate conflicting directives on mask-wearing to combat the spread of the coronavirus — and it’s taken them into some emotional territory.

The governor, Steve Bullock, issued a mask mandate in the summer. But the commissioners in Ravalli County, in southwestern Montana, opted not to enforce the order, citing individual rights. That decision put the business owners of Hamilton, a town of about 5,000, in the tricky position of creating their own policies — an especially difficult proposition in an area of the country that, until recently, was slow to see the spread of the virus.

Some businesses don’t require the face coverings, though others do. One owner, who runs a coffee shop, requires face coverings of employees but not customers — and some of her workers have been openly criticized while taking orders.

The businesses want safety for workers, but don’t want to alienate customers, either — especially when every one of them is needed to stay afloat. Yet despite owners’ best efforts — “We are scrupulously apolitical,” said Randy Lint, owner of Big Creek Coffee Roasters — the masks have become a political statement.

“We just try to give a good drink and kindness,” Mr. Lint said.

Credit…Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Designing and creating new technology — never an easy task — has become far more difficult in the pandemic.

This is particularly true for companies building batteries, computer chips, robots, self-driving cars and any other technology that involves more than software code. While many American workers can get by with a laptop and an internet connection, start-up engineers piecing together new kinds of hardware also need circuit boards, car parts, soldering irons, microscopes and, at the end of it all, an assembly line.

But Silicon Valley is not the home of ingenuity for nothing. When the pandemic hit, many start-up engineers in the area moved their gear into their homes so they could keep innovating, The New York Times’s Cade Metz reports.

For example, an engineer at Cerebras Systems, a start-up in Los Altos, Calif., that is building what may be the world’s largest computer chip turned his living room into a hardware lab. In mid-March, Mr. Hedges packed the 10-by-14-foot room with chips and circuit boards. There were also monitors, soldering irons, microscopes and oscilloscopes, which analyze the electrical signals that travel across the hardware.

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Marking a potentially significant step toward the reopening of the Disneyland Resort in California, a coalition of unions representing thousands of workers has informed Gov. Gavin Newsom that it is generally satisfied with the health measures laid out by the company for operating safely.

The two-park resort in Anaheim, which supports tens of thousands of jobs, has been closed since March, even as the company reopened Walt Disney World in Florida and resorts in Paris, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

The union announcement, in a letter dated Saturday, reflects a turnabout after the coalition expressed concern in June about efforts to reopen the resort the following month. “Unfortunately, despite intensive talks with the company, we are not yet convinced that it is safe to reopen the parks on Disney’s rapid timetable,” the coalition wrote at the time.

Since then, according to Saturday’s letter, Disney has shared plans with the unions to protect workers through social distancing, protective equipment, ventilation and free tests for workers who have Covid-19 symptoms or have been in close contact on the job with someone who was infected.

“We believe a path exists where Disneyland would be able to open safely,” the coalition said.

At least one union that signed the June letter did not sign the more recent one.

Both workers and the company have suffered economically from the pandemic. In September, Disney said it planned to cut nearly 30,000 jobs, most of them from its theme parks.

Despite pleas from the company, Governor Newsom has been skeptical of reopening. “We’re going to be stubborn about it,” he said this month. “We feel there’s no hurry putting out guidelines.” Last week he dispatched a team of state officials to inspect the resort.