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YouTube Cracks Down on QAnon Conspiracy Theory

YouTube on Thursday became the latest social media giant to take steps to stop QAnon, the sprawling pro-Trump conspiracy theory community whose online fantasies about a cabal of satanic pedophiles running the world have spilled over into offline violence.

The company announced in a blog post that it was updating its hate speech and harassment policies to prohibit “content that targets an individual or group with conspiracy theories that have been used to justify real-world violence.” The new policy will prohibit content promoting QAnon, as well as related conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, which falsely claims that top Democrats and Hollywood elites are running an underground sex-trafficking ring from the basement of a Washington pizza restaurant.

Other social networks have also taken steps to curb the spread of QAnon, which has been linked to incidents of violence and vandalism. Last week, Facebook hardened its rules related to QAnon content and compared it to a “militarized social movement” that was becoming increasingly violent. This week, several smaller platforms, including Pinterest, Etsy and Triller, also announced new restrictions on QAnon content.

Under YouTube’s new policy, which goes into effect today, “content that threatens or harasses someone by suggesting they are complicit” in a harmful theory like QAnon or Pizzagate will be banned. News coverage of these theories and videos that discuss the theories without targeting individuals or groups may still be allowed.

The QAnon movement began in 2017, when an anonymous poster under the handle “Q Clearance Patriot,” or “Q,” began posting cryptic messages on 4chan, the notoriously toxic message board, claiming to possess classified information about a secret battle between President Trump and a global cabal of pedophiles. QAnon believers — known as “bakers” — began discussing and decoding them in real time on platforms including Reddit and Twitter, connecting the dots on a modern rebranding of centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes that falsely accused prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and the liberal financier George Soros, of pulling the strings on a global sex trafficking conspiracy.

Few platforms played a bigger role in moving QAnon from the fringes to the mainstream than YouTube. In the movement’s early days, QAnon followers produced YouTube documentaries that offered an introductory crash course in the movement’s core beliefs. The videos were posted on Facebook and other platforms, and were often used to draw new recruits. Some were viewed millions of times.

QAnon followers also started YouTube talk shows to discuss new developments related to the theory. Some of these channels amassed large audiences and made their owners prominent voices within the movement.

“YouTube has a huge role in the Q mythology,” said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory debunker who is writing a book about QAnon. “There are major figures in the Q world who make videos on a daily basis, getting hundreds of thousands of views and packaging their theories in slick clips that are a world away from the straight-to-camera rambles so prominent in conspiracy theory video making.”

YouTube has tried for years to curb the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories on its platform, and tweak the recommendations algorithm that was sending millions of viewers to what it considered low-quality content. In 2019, the company began to demote what it called “borderline content” — videos that tested its rules, but didn’t quite break them outright — and reduce the visibility of those videos in search results and recommendations.

The company says that these changes have decreased by more than 70 percent the number of views borderline content gets from recommendations, although that figure cannot be independently verified. YouTube also says that among a set of pro-QAnon channels, the number of views coming from recommendations dropped by more than 80 percent following the 2019 policy change.

Social media platforms have been under scrutiny for their policy decisions in recent weeks, as Democrats accuse them of doing too little to stop the spread of right-wing misinformation, and Republicans, including President Trump, paint them as censorious menaces to free speech.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has thus far stayed mostly out of the political fray despite the platform’s enormous popularity — users watch more than a billion hours of YouTube videos every day — and the surfeit of misinformation and conspiracy theories on the service. Its chief executive, Susan Wojcicki, has not been personally attacked by Mr. Trump or had to testify to Congress, unlike Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

Vanita Gupta, the chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of civil rights groups, praised YouTube’s move to crack down on QAnon content.

“We commend YouTube for banning this harmful and hateful content that targets people with conspiracy theories used to justify violence offline, particularly through efforts like QAnon,” Ms. Gupta said. “This online content can result in real-world violence, and fosters hate that harms entire communities.”

Mr. Rothschild, the QAnon researcher, predicted that QAnon believers who were kicked off YouTube would find ways to distribute their videos through smaller platforms. He also cautioned that the movement’s followers were known for trying to evade platform bans, and that YouTube would have to remain vigilant to keep them from restarting their channels and trying again.

“YouTube banning Q videos and suspending Q promoters is a good step,” he said, “but it won’t be the end of Q. Nothing has been so far.”

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July Is the New January: More Companies Delay Return to the Office

When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered offices around the United States in March, many companies told their employees that it would be only a short hiatus away from headquarters.

Workers, they said, would be back in their cubicles within a matter of weeks. Weeks turned into September. Then September turned into January. And now, with the virus still surging in some parts of the country, a growing number of employers are delaying return-to-office dates once again, to the summer of 2021 at the earliest.

Google was one of the first to announce that July 2021 was its return-to-office date. Uber, Slack and Airbnb soon jumped on the bandwagon. In the past week, Microsoft, Target, Ford Motor and The New York Times said they, too, had postponed the return of in-person work to next summer and acknowledged the inevitable: The pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon.

“Let’s just bite the bullet,” said Joan Burke, the chief people officer of DocuSign in San Francisco. In August, her company, which manages electronic document signatures, decided it would allow its 5,200 employees to work from home until June 2021.

“We’re still in a place where this is evolving,” she said. “None of us have all the answers.”

Many more companies are expected to delay their return-to-office dates to keep workers safe. And workers said they were in no rush to go back, with 73 percent of U.S. employees fearing that being in their workplace could pose a risk to their personal health and safety, according to a study by Wakefield Research commissioned by Envoy, a workplace technology company.

More companies are also saying that they will institute permanent work-from-home policies so employees do not ever have to come into the office again.

In May, Facebook was one of the first to announce that it would allow many employees to work remotely even after the pandemic. Twitter, Coinbase and Shopify have also said they would do so. On Friday, Microsoft announced it would also be part of that shift.

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Credit…Stuart Isett for The New York Times

The elongating timelines and changing policies add up to a continued balancing act for companies as the coronavirus shatters work norms and upends assumptions about where workers need to be to achieve maximum productivity. Employers are also under pressure to be as open as possible about their intentions so that workers can plan ahead with their lives.

The postponement of return dates is a “psychological blow for those who expected this to be a transition phase,” said Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard Business School professor who studies remote work. “The reality is hitting that, ‘There won’t be a vaccine as I expected very quickly. This is going to be my life, and I’d better learn how to do this.’”

Dr. Neeley likened the situation to waiting at an airport terminal for a flight that is continually delayed. With the new dates announced, she said, people can finally start adjusting from a temporary “grinning and bear it” approach to a permanent shift.

Successful companies “have begun to think about long-term strategy rather than ‘Let’s just survive our crisis,’” she said.

Much of corporate America is now following the lead of Silicon Valley tech companies like Google and Facebook. They were among those that allowed employees to work from home even before the pandemic hit in full force in March. Since then, Facebook has set the tone in planning for permanent remote work, while Google established the July 2021 target date for returning to the office.

“I hope this will offer the flexibility you need to balance work with taking care of yourselves and your loved ones over the next 12 months,” Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, wrote in an email to employees about the July 2021 date.

Other employers soon emulated the tech giants, also citing worker flexibility as a key factor in pushing their return-to-office dates to next summer.

Ms. Burke, the DocuSign executive, said announcing the June 2021 return date to employees prompted a “collective sigh of relief inside the company” because it put an end to the incremental postponements and uncertainty of when they would be expected to return.

Remote work has been productive, she said, and people like not having to commute. But a mix of in-person and remote is probably the most popular option for employees when life returns to normal, she said, because they also miss the social interaction of an office space.

Zoom “is not the same thing, and it’s exhausting,” Ms. Burke said. “By 7 o’clock last night, I was Zoomed out.”

Other companies that have delayed their returns to the office until next summer often face a more complicated decision because their work forces are not just made up of white-collar engineers, unlike those of internet companies.

Ford said last week that its decision to hold off on back in-person office work through June 2021 would apply to its roughly 32,000 employees in North America who are already working remotely. The company, which has about 188,000 employees, said the policy does not apply to factory staff.

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Credit…Aaron P/Bauer-Griffin, via Getty Images

When Target announced its decision to let some employees continue to work at home through June 2021 in a letter to staff last week, it said it would apply just to employees at its headquarters in Minneapolis. The company said a small number of employees who rely on the headquarters facilities would continue to work on-site. In-store employees will work in retail stores as usual.

Some companies that have already tried bringing employees back to the office have grappled with safety concerns. Last month, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase sent some workers back home after employees who had returned to the office tested positive for the virus.

Tech companies have also been at the forefront of permanent work-from-home policies because digital work is often simpler for people to conduct via laptops and teleconferences than by being on site.

Slack told employees — many of them engineers — in early August that its offices would remain closed until June 2021 and that it was considering permanent work-from-home, a decision partly driven by how productive its employees have been remotely, said Robby Kwok, the chief of staff to Slack’s chief executive.

“I do think this flexibility that employers are giving to employees about not needing to come into the office five days a week is going to be extremely beneficial for productivity, for engagement,” Mr. Kwok said.

Even when the pandemic subsides, 72 percent of Slack employees surveyed said, they preferred that the company allow a mix of at-home and office work. Slack operates a messaging platform used by many businesses.

Still, some tech companies have reservations about embracing permanent remote work and what might be lost in the process. Rapid7, a cybersecurity company in Boston, has told its more than 1,600 employees that they would continue to work from home through the beginning of 2021. But the company said it does its best work through in-person collaboration, and the pandemic has not changed that.

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Credit…Carlos Chavarría for The New York Times

“We know we are not meant to be 100 percent remote,” said Christina Luconi, the company’s chief people officer. “We will all go back to the office” when it is safe to do so, she said.

A push to all-company remote work can be particularly difficult for companies with predominantly young work forces, said Andy Eichfeld, the chief human resources and administrative officer at the credit card company Discover, which told employees on Sept. 29 that they would not need to return to the office before June 2021.

“A younger person needs apprenticeship in the first 10 or 15 years of their career,” Mr. Eichfeld said. “And we know how to deliver that in person. I’m not sure apprenticeship happens remotely.”

For some workers, the return date of next summer and the idea of permanent work from home is a mixed blessing.

When Colin Fahrion, a digital communications specialist for the University of California, San Francisco, found out in June that he would not need to return to the office until at least July 2021, he moved 15 miles farther away from San Francisco, from Richmond to Vallejo, about 30 miles outside the city, and bought a house.

Mr. Fahrion, 47, now has a dedicated office space and a backyard where his dog can play, and he has talked to his supervisor about working remotely on a permanent basis. Still, he finds Zoom meetings to be devoid of collaborative energy.

“I miss my co-workers,” he said.

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Twitter Will Turn Off Some Features to Fight Election Misinformation

OAKLAND, Calif. — Twitter, risking the ire of its best-known user, President Trump, said on Friday that it would turn off several of its routine features in an attempt to control the spread of misinformation in the final weeks before the presidential election.

The first notable change, Twitter said, will essentially give users a timeout before they can hit the button to retweet a post from another account. A prompt will nudge them to add their own comment or context before sharing the original post.

Twitter will also disable the system that suggests posts on the basis of someone’s interests and the activity of accounts they follow. In their timelines, users will see only content from accounts they follow and ads.

And if users try to share content that Twitter has flagged as false, a notice will warn them that they are about to share inaccurate information.

Most of changes will happen on Oct. 20 and will be temporary, Twitter said. Labels warning users against sharing false information will begin to appear next week. The company plans to wait until the result of the presidential election is clear before turning the features back on.

“Twitter has a critical role to play in protecting the integrity of the election conversation, and we encourage candidates, campaigns, news outlets and voters to use Twitter respectfully and to recognize our collective responsibility to the electorate to guarantee a safe, fair and legitimate democratic process this November,” the Twitter executives Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour said in a statement.

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Credit…Twitter

They said the “extra friction” on retweets was designed to “encourage everyone to not only consider why they are amplifying a tweet, but also increase the likelihood that people add their own thoughts, reactions and perspectives to the conversation.”

If users decide they don’t have anything to add, they will be able to retweet after the prompt.

The change is likely to have a direct impact on Mr. Trump’s online activity. Since returning to the White House on Monday after a hospital stay to treat the coronavirus, he has been on a Twitter tear. On Tuesday evening, for example, he tweeted or retweeted posts from other accounts about 40 times.

Twitter stopped short of shutting down its Trending Topics feature, a change that many critics say would do the most to fight misinformation because people can game the feature to promote false or misleading information. Instead, Twitter will expand its effort to fact-check and provide context to items that trend in the United States.

Social media companies have moved in recent months to fight the spread of misinformation around the presidential election. Facebook and Google have committed to banning political ads for an undetermined period after polls close on Nov. 3. Facebook also said a banner at the top of its news feed would caution users that no winner had been declared until news outlets called the presidential race.

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People who go to retweet will be brought to the quote tweet composer where they’ll be encouraged to comment before sending their tweet.

The companies are trying to avoid a repeat of the 2016 election, when Russian operatives used them to spread falsehoods and hyperpartisan content in an attempt to destabilize the American electorate.

Over the last year, Twitter has slowly been stripping away parts of its service that have been used to spread false and misleading information. Jack Dorsey, the chief executive, announced last year that the company would no longer allow political advertising. Twitter has more aggressively fact-checked misinformation on the service — including misleading tweets from Mr. Trump.

That has led to a backlash from the Trump administration. Mr. Trump, who has 87 million followers on Twitter, has called for a repeal of legal protections Twitter and other social media companies rely on.

But Twitter’s fact-checking has continued. It recently began adding context to its trending topics, giving viewers more information about why a topic has become a subject of widespread conversation on Twitter. This month, Twitter plans to add context to all trending topics presented on the For You page for users in the United States.

“This will help people more quickly gain an informed understanding of the high-volume public conversation in the U.S. and also help reduce the potential for misleading information to spread,” Ms. Gadde and Mr. Beykpour said.

Twitter’s trends illustrate which topics are most popular on the service by highlighting content that is widely discussed. The trends often serve as an on-ramp for new users who are discovering how to find information on Twitter, but internet trolls and bots have often exploited the system to spread false, hateful or misleading information.

As recently as July, trending topics have been hijacked by white nationalists who pushed the anti-Semitic hashtag #JewishPrivilege and by QAnon, a conspiracy group that made the furniture company Wayfair trend on Twitter with false claims that the company engaged in child trafficking. The embarrassing episodes led critics to call on Twitter to shut down trends altogether.

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House Lawmakers Condemn Big Tech’s ‘Monopoly Power’ and Urge Their Breakups

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers who spent the last 16 months investigating the practices of the world’s largest technology companies said on Tuesday that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google had exercised and abused their monopoly power and called for the most sweeping changes to antitrust laws in half a century.

In a 449-page report that was presented by the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic leadership, lawmakers said the four companies had turned from “scrappy” start-ups into “the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.” The lawmakers said the companies had abused their dominant positions, setting and often dictating prices and rules for commerce, search, advertising, social networking and publishing.

To amend the inequities, the lawmakers recommended restoring competition by effectively breaking up the companies, emboldening the agencies that police market concentration and throwing up hurdles for the companies to acquire start-ups. They also proposed reforming antitrust laws, in the biggest potential shift since the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act of 1976 created stronger reviews of big mergers.

“Our investigation leaves no doubt that there is a clear and compelling need for Congress and the antitrust enforcement agencies to take action that restores competition, improves innovation and safeguards our democracy,” Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and chairman of the judiciary committee, and David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, said in a joint statement.

The House report is the most significant government effort to check the world’s largest tech companies since the government sued Microsoft for antitrust violations in the 1990s. It offers lawmakers a deeply researched road map for turning criticism of Silicon Valley’s influence into concrete actions.

The report is also expected to kick off other actions against the tech giants. The Justice Department has been working to file an antitrust complaint against Google, followed by separate suits against the search giant from state attorneys general. Antitrust investigations of Amazon, Apple and Facebook are also underway at the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and four dozen state attorneys general.

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But the House antitrust subcommittee split along party lines on how to remedy and corral the power of the tech companies, pointing to an uphill battle for Congress to curtail them.

Democrats proposed legal changes that could substantially restructure Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. They said Congress should consider making it illegal for the tech giants to provide preferential treatment to their own products, as Google does in search results. They suggested breaking up the companies in “structural separations” and forbidding them from operating in similar businesses to those they were already dominant in. They also recommended adding to antitrust laws, including clearer rules that could block the tech giants’ attempts to buy other companies.

Some Republicans agreed with proposals to bolster funding for antitrust enforcement agencies, but balked at calls for Congress to intervene in restructuring the companies and their business models. Others have refused to endorse any of the Democrats’ findings.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, said that the report was “partisan” and that the committee had not tackled conservatives’ anecdotal allegations that the online platforms were biased against their views. In a letter to Mr. Nadler, Mr. Jordan said that ignoring the topic “ultimately discredits the draft report’s findings.”

Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican of Colorado, joined three other Republican lawmakers in releasing a separate report in recent days — titled “The Third Way” — outlining their mixed reception of the Democrats’ proposals.

“I agree with about 330 pages of the majority’s report,” Mr. Buck said. But he said he could not agree with recommendations to embolden consumer lawsuits and the breakup of companies, calling them “the nuclear option.”

The House Judiciary Committee began its investigation into the four tech giants in June 2019, interviewing hundreds of rivals and business clients of the platforms. In July, the tech chief executives — Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sundar Pichai of Google — testified in a hearing to defend their companies.

The four companies, which have a combined market value of more than $5 trillion, largely operate in different digital businesses. But the report revealed monopoly abuses across them.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google had roles as “gatekeepers” in common and controlled prices and the distribution of goods and services, the report said. That made third-party businesses — like app developers on Apple’s App Store and sellers on Amazon’s marketplace — beholden to the companies’ demands, the report said. The word monopoly appeared in the report nearly 120 times.

“With no restrictions of tech companies to own and compete on their own platforms, which are the only options for so many small businesses, it takes away any real sense of competition,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat of Washington, who has been a vocal critic of Amazon.

Even without full bipartisan support, the report sets important groundwork, said Gene Kimmelman, a former senior antitrust official at the Justice Department. He said the breakup of AT&T in the 1980s was supported by policies set forth by Congress. Tuesday’s report, he said, was “the foundation for legislation and regulation that enables antitrust cases against Google, Facebook and others to actually break markets open to more competition.”

Google disputed the findings and said its free service had been a boon to consumers. “Google’s free products like Search, Maps and Gmail help millions of Americans,” the company said in a statement, “and we’ve invested billions of dollars in research and development to build and improve them. We compete fairly in a fast-moving and highly competitive industry.”

Amazon said the committee’s recommendations could end up harming small businesses and consumers.

“The flawed thinking would have the primary effect of forcing millions of independent retailers out of online stores, thereby depriving these small businesses of one of the fastest and most profitable ways available to reach customers,” Amazon said in a blog post. “Far from enhancing competition, these uninformed notions would instead reduce it.”

Apple “vehemently disagrees with the conclusions in this staff report,” the company said in a statement. “The App Store has enabled new markets, new services and new products that were unimaginable a dozen years ago, and developers have been primary beneficiaries of this ecosystem,” the company said.

Facebook disagreed that its mergers with Instagram and WhatsApp were anticompetitive. “We compete with a wide variety of services with millions, even billions, of people using them,” the company said in a statement. “Acquisitions are part of every industry, and just one way we innovate new technologies to deliver more value to people.”

The report devoted most attention to Google and Amazon, then Apple and Facebook, based on the number of pages devoted to them.

Google holds a monopoly in search and search advertising, the report said. The company used anti-competitive tactics, such as adding information without permission from third-party providers like Yelp, to improve the quality of features within its search results, lawmakers added.

Amazon’s market power was spread across several industries, the report found. The committee focused on the company’s conduct in online commerce, where it sells products that compete with independent merchants who use its platform. The report said Amazon promoted its own smart-home products ahead of those of other makers, and also dealt unfairly with open source software developers in its cloud computing business.

In total, about 2.3 million third-party sellers do business on the Amazon marketplace worldwide, the report said, and 37 percent of them relied on the site as their sole source of income — essentially making them hostage to Amazon’s shifting tactics.

The lawmakers also concluded that Apple had a monopoly on the apps marketplace for iPhones and iPads, forcing all developers to go through it to reach users of those devices. That setup has enabled Apple to take a 30 percent cut of many apps’ sales. That fee, the subcommittee found, has led to higher prices for consumers.

Facebook’s monopoly power over social networking was also “firmly entrenched,” the report said. The company had taken steps, like acquiring new competitors or copying their features, to maintain that power, the lawmakers found. In particular, they said, after Facebook acquired the photo-sharing site Instagram in 2012, the social network’s executives had gone to great lengths to stop the service from overtaking its main product.

“It was collusion, but within an internal monopoly,” a former high-level Instagram employee told the committee during its investigation. “If you own two social media utilities, they should not be allowed to shore each other up. It’s unclear to me why this should not be illegal.”

Reporting was contributed by Daisuke Wakabayashi, Mike Isaac, Jack Nicas and Steve Lohr.

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Google Demands Its 30% Cut From App Developers in Play Store

OAKLAND, Calif. — Google said it would no longer allow some apps to circumvent its payment system within the Google Play store that provides the company a cut of in-app purchases.

Google said in a blog post on Monday that it was providing “clarity” on billing policies because there was confusion among some developers about what types of transactions require use of its app store’s billing system.

Google has had a policy of taking a 30 percent cut of payments made within apps offered by the Google Play store, but some developers including Netflix and Spotify have bypassed the requirement by prompting users for a credit card to pay them directly. Google said companies had until Sept. 30, 2021, to integrate its billing systems.

The fees collected by Google and Apple’s app stores has become an especially contentious issue in recent months after Epic Games, maker of the popular game Fortnite, sued Apple and Google, claiming they violated antitrust rules with the commissions they charge.

Developers have bristled at the 30 percent cut demanded by Google and Apple, saying it is an inflated digital tax that hobbles their ability to compete. And because the two companies control almost all of the world’s smartphones, many developers gripe that they have no option but to adhere to their policies and pay the commissions.

Google has argued that it allows other companies to operate app stores within its Android software. On Monday, the company said it would make changes in next year’s version of Android to make it easier to use other app stores on its devices without compromising safety.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

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Alphabet Settles Shareholder Suits Over Sexual Harassment Claims

OAKLAND, Calif. — Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has settled a series of shareholder lawsuits over its handling of sexual harassment claims, agreeing to greater oversight by its board of directors in future cases of sexual misconduct and committing to spend $310 million over the next decade on corporate diversity programs.

The settlement, filed on Friday in California Superior Court, also said employees would no longer be forced to settle disputes with Alphabet in private arbitration. Workers had demanded that change after details of sexual harassment cases at the company became public two years ago.

In addition, Alphabet said it would limit confidentiality restrictions when settling harassment and discrimination cases and ban workplace romances between managers and subordinates.

The Silicon Valley company was hit by a wave of shareholder lawsuits after The New York Times reported in 2018 that the board of directors had approved a $90 million exit package for a star executive, Andy Rubin, even after an investigation deemed a sexual harassment claim against him credible.

Five lawsuits in California were eventually consolidated into one case. One of them, brought by James Martin, an Alphabet shareholder, said board members had allowed illegal conduct to proliferate, ignored their fiduciary duties and became enablers of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Other shareholder suits are awaiting action in federal court and in Delaware, where Alphabet is incorporated. The federal cases are on hold pending the outcome of the California suits, while the matter in Delaware is in mediation.

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Credit…Brian Ach/Getty Image

Julie Goldsmith Reiser, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, one of the firms representing Alphabet shareholders, said the $310 million commitment was meaningful because the tech giant was paying the money directly and it was earmarked to address one of the root problems at the company.

“The settlement fundamentally alters Alphabet’s workplace policies,” Ms. Reiser said. “It feels like we’ve given the company the tools to become a better workplace.”

So-called shareholder derivative lawsuits have sprung up in the wake of “Me Too” revelations of sexual misconduct by executives or prominent employees as a way to try to hold companies accountable.

In similar lawsuits at 21st Century Fox and Wynn Resorts, the damages won by shareholders were paid out by insurers to the companies, instead of to the individuals who sued.

After a sexual harassment scandal at its Fox News division, 21st Century Fox agreed to a settlement that included a $90 million payment from insurers and the formation of an advisory committee to improve its workplace culture.

The settlement with Alphabet also does not direct money to the people who sued, but it does steer funding and policies to prevent the bad behavior from recurring. Ms. Reiser hailed it for setting a new level of corporate governance and accountability, as well as a standard for the rest of the technology industry. The level of board involvement and executive accountability, she said, “goes far beyond what we’ve seen in other settlements.”

As the lawsuits started piling up, Alphabet’s board created a committee of independent directors to investigate the claims, interviewing current and former directors and employees. After the review, the committee determined that it should try to resolve the claims, according to the settlement. Alphabet and its directors denied any wrongdoing in the document laying out the agreement.

The company has undergone a significant changing of the guard in the last few years. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google more than two decades ago, stepped down from a day-to-day role at the company in late 2019.

David Drummond, a longtime company lawyer who kept his job even after details of an extramarital relationship he had with a woman who worked for him became public, left Alphabet this year. Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive, who was known to appear at company events with women he was seeing in extramarital relationships, left the board in 2019.

“Recent years have involved a lot of introspection and work to make sure we’re providing a safe and inclusive workplace,” Eileen Naughton, vice president of Google’s people operations, wrote in a blog post on the company’s website. “I’m grateful to everyone, especially our employees and shareholders, for providing us with feedback, and for making sure that the way we tackle these vital issues is better today than it was in the past.”

As part of the settlement, Alphabet agreed to form an advisory council focused on diversity, equality and inclusion made up of four executives — including Sundar Pichai, the chief executive — and three outside experts including Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge. The group will take on a wide range of issues, including hiring and retention, compensation, and how the company responds to and investigates employee complaints.

In addition, Alphabet’s board will receive more information about how the company is handling claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and directors will receive regular reports on the compensation of any senior executives found to have engaged in serious misconduct.

Shortly after the report about the payouts to Mr. Rubin and other Google executives accused of sexual misconduct, 20,000 workers staged a walkout demanding changes to how the company treats employees. In response, Google agreed to stop forced arbitration in individual cases of sexual harassment or assault. It later expanded the policy to all employee disputes with the company.

Alphabet said it would now extend the policy to its 11 other subsidiaries, like the self-driving car company Waymo. Some of those businesses have thousands of employees.

Google employees will no longer be bound to nondisclosure agreements preventing them from discussing the underlying facts or circumstances of incidents when settling sexual harassment and retaliation claims. Alphabet said it would “encourage” its subsidiaries to do the same but was not requiring the change.

In an attempt to address past problems of executives dating subordinates, Alphabet said, it has changed its workplace romance policy so that managers are no longer allowed to date employees they supervise. The previous policy “strongly discouraged” such relationships.

Alphabet also agreed that employees who are being investigated over claims of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment or retaliation when they depart Google will not receive severance or other compensation. That is already the case for employees fired for misconduct. Under the new policy, even if an employee is not fired, the misconduct will be taken into account in determining his or her severance, the company said.

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To Fight Apple and Google, Smaller App Rivals Organize a Coalition

SAN FRANCISCO — For months, complaints from tech companies against Apple’s and Google’s power have grown louder.

Spotify, the music streaming app, criticized Apple for the rules it imposed in the App Store. A founder of the software company Basecamp attacked Apple’s “highway robbery rates” on apps. And last month, Epic Games, maker of the popular game Fortnite, sued Apple and Google, claiming they violated antitrust rules.

Now these app makers are uniting in an unusual show of opposition against Apple and Google and the power they have over their app stores. On Thursday, the smaller companies said they had formed the Coalition for App Fairness, a nonprofit group that plans to push for changes in the app stores and “protect the app economy.” The 13 initial members include Spotify, Basecamp, Epic and Match Group, which has apps like Tinder and Hinge.

“They’ve collectively decided, ‘We’re not alone in this, and maybe what we should do is advocate on behalf of everybody,’” said Sarah Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the group. She added that the new nonprofit would be “a voice for many.”

Scrutiny of the largest tech companies has reached a new intensity. The Department of Justice is expected to file an antitrust case against Google as soon as next week, focused on the company’s dominance in internet search. In July, Congress grilled the chief executives of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook about their practices in a high-profile antitrust hearing. And in Europe, regulators have opened a formal antitrust investigation into Apple’s App Store tactics and are preparing to bring antitrust charges against Amazon for abusing its dominance in internet commerce.

For years, smaller rivals were loath to speak up against the mammoth companies for fear of retaliation. But the growing backlash has emboldened them to take action.

Spotify and others have become more vocal. And on Monday, Epic and Apple are set to meet in a virtual courtroom in the Northern District of California to present their cases for whether Fortnite should stay on the App Store, before a trial over the antitrust complaint next year.

At the heart of the new alliance’s effort is opposition to Apple’s and Google’s tight grip on their app stores and the fortunes of the apps in them. The two companies control virtually all of the world’s smartphones through their software and the distribution of apps via their stores. Both also charge a 30 percent fee for payments made inside apps in their systems.

App makers have increasingly taken issue with the payment rules, arguing that a 30 percent fee is a tax that hobbles their ability to compete. In some cases, they have said, they are competing with Apple’s and Google’s own apps and their unfair advantages.

Apple has argued that its fee is standard across online marketplaces.

On Thursday, the coalition published a list of 10 principles, outlined on its website, for what it said were fairer app practices. They include a more transparent process for getting apps approved and the right to communicate directly with their users. The top principle states that developers should not be forced to exclusively use the payments systems of the app store publishers.

Each of the alliance’s members has agreed to contribute an undisclosed membership fee to the effort.

“Apple leverages its platform to give its own services an unfair advantage over competitors,” said Kirsten Daru, vice president and general counsel of Tile, a start-up that makes Bluetooth tracking devices and is part of the new nonprofit. “That’s bad for consumers, competition and innovation.”

Ms. Daru testified to lawmakers this year that Apple had begun making the permissions around Tile’s app more difficult for people to use after it developed a competing feature.

Apple did not immediately have a comment on the coalition; Google didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The coalition came together in recent months after discussions among executives at Tile, Epic, Spotify and Match Group, the four companies that have been most vocal in their opposition to the big tech companies, Ms. Maxwell said.

Some of the conversations took place after Apple and Google booted Fortnite from their app stores last month for violating their payment rules. As Epic’s fight with Apple and Google escalated, Spotify and Match Group spoke out in support of the video game company.

Apple has argued that Epic’s situation “is entirely of Epic’s own making.”

The new coalition could spur more companies to publicly voice longstanding complaints, its members said. Peter Smith, chief executive of Blockchain.com, said his cryptocurrency finance company had joined the group partly because it offered strength in numbers.

“Can they ban us all?” he said. “I doubt it.”

Apple has blocked Blockchain’s apps several times, Mr. Smith said. Some customers were so frustrated by the blockages that they posted videos of themselves destroying iPhones with machetes.

“These app stores have gotten so big that they are effectively deciding what customers get access to,” Mr. Smith said.

Tim Sweeney, Epic’s chief executive, said his company had received “vast, vast amounts of communication” from app developers who supported it after it sued. But many are afraid to speak up publicly, he said.

“Apple and Google have infinite ways of retaliating without it being obvious to the outside world” by slowing down apps, reinterpreting rules in negative ways or saying no to new features, Mr. Sweeney said in an interview this week.

He said Epic had a history of standing up for what it thought was right. “But of course,” he added, “it is very stressful to go through, you know, a fight with two companies that are over 200 times our size.”

Adam Satariano contributed reporting from London.

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Justice Dept. Case Against Google Is Said to Focus on Search Dominance

WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice’s impending lawsuit against Google has narrowed to focus on the company’s power over internet search, a decision that could set off a cascade of separate lawsuits from states in ensuing weeks over the Silicon Valley giant’s dominance in other business segments.

In presentations to state attorneys general starting on Wednesday, the department is expected to outline its legal case centered on how Google uses its dominant search engine to harm rivals and consumers, said four people with knowledge of the plan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details were confidential. Meeting with the state attorneys general is one of the final steps before the department files its suit against the company, they said.

The Justice Department’s action against Google is set to be narrower than what some states and several career lawyers in the department had envisioned. The department also investigated Google’s reach in ad technology and how the company prices and places ads across the internet. But in an effort to file a case by the end of September, the agency decided to pick the piece that was furthest along in legal theory and that it felt could best withstand a potential challenge in court.

The department has not written the final draft of its complaint against Google, and the document is expected to change over the next few days to reflect internal deliberations and input from constituents like the state attorneys general. Suing Google would fulfill a push by Attorney General William P. Barr to take action against a tech giant around the end of September, an effort that has taken on greater urgency ahead of the Nov. 3 election as President Trump fights for a second term.

The Justice Department and 48 states agreed to open their investigations into Google’s dominance a year ago as a bipartisan effort, but the last-minute jostling about what is included in the cases and how they should play out has exposed political fault lines. The department is seeking support of the search case and is set to file a lawsuit even without bipartisan support from state attorneys general, two people with knowledge of the plan said.

On Wednesday, Republican state attorneys general will also attend a meeting with Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr over concerns of censorship by social media companies, according to two people with knowledge of the plan.

If Mr. Barr brings the case by the end of this month, he will override lawyers who worked on the investigation and who said they needed more time to bring what they considered to be a strong lawsuit.

Mr. Trump has supported efforts to restrain the power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Last summer, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission opened antitrust investigations into the four tech companies, which combined are valued at more than $5 trillion. The investigations were buttressed by state investigations and a separate House inquiry into alleged monopoly abuses by the four giants.

The Justice Department and Google declined to comment.

The department’s complaint could come as early as next week and is expected to start a multipronged battle against Google, the search giant owned by Alphabet. While details are still being completed, the case on search is expected to focus on Google’s agreements with other companies like Apple, which set its search engine as the default option for users on iPhones and other devices. Those agreements give Google’s search engine an advantage over other rivals.

The complaint is expected to be followed by other antitrust actions against Google by the end of the year, according to people with knowledge of the plans by the department and states.

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Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Separately, an investigation by state attorneys general of Google’s behavior in digital advertising — the source of virtually all of Alphabet’s $34 billion in annual profit — is nearly complete. That investigation, led by Ken Paxton, the Republican attorney general of Texas, is expected to result in a suit accusing Google of using tactics that have undermined competition in the market for online advertising, a person briefed on the inquiry said.

That suit, the person said, should be ready to be filed soon, with the Justice Department potentially joining as a plaintiff but with Texas taking the lead. A spokeswoman for Mr. Paxton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

There is also the potential for an additional, broader suit by the states, led by Phil Weiser, the Democratic attorney general of Colorado. It would include more wide-ranging allegations of Google using its dominance of the search market to favor its shopping and other services, the person said.

That investigation is still in progress, and a case, if filed, would come later than the other two, the person said. Mr. Weiser declined to comment.

Google controls about 90 percent of web searches globally, and rivals have complained that the company extended that power by making its search and browsing tools the defaults on many smartphones. Google also captures about one-third of every dollar spent on online advertising, and its ad tools are used to supply and auction ads that appear across the internet.

The contracts Google reaches with other tech companies to serve as a default search engine have already attracted attention internationally, in inquiries that may provide a preview into the argument by the Justice Department.

Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority said in a report this summer that the scale of Google’s payments to mobile phone makers like Apple for its search engine to be the default on those devices was “striking and demonstrates the value that Google places on these default positions.” The regulator also found that those agreements were “a barrier to expansion for other search engines.”

Cecilia Kang and Katie Benner reported from Washington, Steve Lohr from New York and Daisuke Wakabayashi from Oakland, Calif. David McCabe contributed reporting from Washington.

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Parents Got More Time Off. Then the Backlash Started.

OAKLAND, Calif. — When the coronavirus closed schools and child care centers and turned American parenthood into a multitasking nightmare, many tech companies rushed to help their employees. They used their comfortable profit margins to extend workers new benefits, including extra time off for parents to help them care for their children.

It wasn’t long before employees without children started to ask: What about us?

At a recent companywide meeting, Facebook employees repeatedly argued that work policies created in response to Covid-19 “have primarily benefited parents.” At Twitter, a fight erupted on an internal message board after a worker who didn’t have children at home accused another employee, who was taking a leave to care for a child, of not pulling his weight.

When Salesforce announced that it was offering parents six weeks of paid time off, most employees applauded. But one Salesforce manager, who is not permitted to talk publicly about internal matters and therefore asked not to be identified, said two childless employees, reflecting a sentiment voiced at several companies, complained that the policy seemed to put parents’ needs ahead of theirs.

As companies wrestle with how best to support staff during the pandemic, some employees without children say that they feel underappreciated, and that they are being asked to shoulder a heavier workload. And parents are frustrated that their childless co-workers don’t understand how hard it is to balance work and child care, especially when day care centers are closed and they are trying to help their children learn at home.

The divide is more pronounced at some technology companies, where workers tend to be younger and have come to expect generous perks and benefits in exchange for letting their jobs take over their lives. Tech companies were among the first to ask employees to work from home at the start of the pandemic, and to offer generous leave and additional time off once it became apparent that children would remain home from school as well.

The tension between parents and nonparents has been most vividly displayed at Facebook.

In March, Facebook offered up to 10 weeks of paid time off for employees if they had to care for a child whose school or day care facility had closed or for an older relative whose nursing home was not open. Google and Microsoft extended similar paid leave to employees dealing with children at home or a sick relative.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive and a father of two, also said the company would not be scoring employees on job performance for the first half of 2020 because there was “so much change in our lives and our work.”

Every Facebook employee would receive bonus amounts usually reserved for very good performance scores, irking some childless employees who felt that those who worked more should be paid more.

When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, hosted a companywide videoconference on Aug. 20, more than 2,000 employees voted to ask her what more Facebook could do to support nonparents, since its other policies had benefited parents.

The question struck a nerve. An employee wrote in comments accompanying the video feed that it was “unfair” that nonparents could not take advantage of the same leave policy afforded parents. Another wrote that while the procedure for taking leave was usually difficult, it was “easy breezy” for parents.

A parent responded in a note on her corporate Facebook page, visible only inside the company, that the question was “harmful” because it made parents feel negatively judged and that a child care leave was hardly a mental or physical health break.

“Please don’t make me and other parents at Facebook the outlet for your understandable frustration, exhaustion and anger in response to the hardships you’re experiencing due to Covid-19,” the parent wrote. Video of the meeting and screenshots of employee responses on internal message boards were shared with The New York Times.

Ms. Sandberg said she “disagreed with the premise of the question” that the leave policy and freeze on performance ratings were primarily benefiting parents. She added that larger-than-normal bonuses had been given to all employees and that everyone had received a $1,000 stipend to buy equipment for working from home.

The employees persisted. In a written comment, one said more than a thousand people agreed with the premise of the question and asked that Ms. Sandberg answer it again. She did, adding that Facebook has tried to design its leave policies to be “inclusive.”

“I do believe parents have certain challenges,” she said. “But everyone has challenges, and those challenges are very, very real.”

Over the last few months, Facebook managers had to shut down discussions on internal forums singling out certain parents for not contributing, according to three members of the Facebook staff, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not permitted to discuss workplace issues with reporters.

With its offices scheduled to remain closed until at least October and schools restarting online in California, Facebook said in August that the leave policy would remain in place through June 2021 and that employees who had already taken some leave this year would be afforded another 10 weeks next year.

That angered some nonparents. A few wrote openly about how isolated they felt, living alone and not seeing anyone for weeks at a time. The company, they said, seemed less concerned about their needs.

Facebook said all employees could take up to three days to cope with physical or mental health issues without a doctor’s note. It separately offers 30 days of emergency leave for all employees if they need to care for a sick family member. In addition, all Facebook employees receive an unlimited number of sick days and receive at least 21 vacation days a year.

“We’ve added more support for all of our employees and encourage everyone to have open discussions about the challenges they’re facing,” said Liz Bourgeois, a company spokeswoman. “In too many workplaces, trying to hide the added difficulties of caregiving or well-being is yet another burden people have to carry, and we don’t want that to be the case at Facebook.”

Resentment from employees without children about extra parental benefits existed at companies before the pandemic, of course. But the health crisis has amplified that tension. Parents who had normally been able to balance work and home are struggling to help their children learn remotely while still doing their jobs.

In a July survey of 1,700 people conducted by ZipRecruiter, a job-listing and recruiting sites, parents said that if schools did not reopen at all this fall, the number of hours they could work would be reduced. Mothers said their working hours would be reduced 9 percent, while fathers said their time would go down 5 percent.

It is a difficult situation for everyone, but “for people to get upset enough to say that ‘I feel this is unfair’ demonstrates a lack of patience, a lack of empathy and a sense of entitlement,” said Laszlo Bock, Google’s former head of people operations, or human resources. He is now the chief executive of the start-up Humu, which aims to help companies manage employees more effectively.

At Twitter, where employees have unlimited days off, several workers went to the defense of the parent who was called out for taking a leave. Round-the-clock child care, they said, was not something they would do voluntarily.

The bickering went on. Another employee retorted that more parents took advantage of Twitter’s unlimited leave policies than nonparents. He did not provide data or any details to back up that claim.

A spokesman for Twitter declined to comment. A Salesforce spokeswoman also declined to comment.

Tension between parents and their childless co-workers may result from companies not doing a good job explaining that what benefits parents can benefit the entire work force, said Erin Kelly, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Business, who studies workplace policies and management practices.

“A question that we might ask the employees who are feeling some frustration about their co-workers being on leave is what do you think is going to happen if that person quits?” she said. “You’re going to actually be stretched further.”

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Justice Dept. Plans to File Antitrust Charges Against Google in Coming Weeks

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department plans to bring an antitrust case against Google as soon as this month, after Attorney General William P. Barr overruled career lawyers who said they needed more time to build a strong case against one of the world’s wealthiest, most formidable technology companies, according to five people briefed on internal department conversations.

Justice Department officials told lawyers involved in the antitrust inquiry into Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, to wrap up their work by the end of September, according to three of the people. Most of the 40-odd lawyers who had been working on the investigation opposed the deadline. Some said they would not sign the complaint, and several of them left the case this summer.

Some argued this summer in a memo that ran hundreds of pages that they could bring a strong case but needed more time, according to people who described the document. Disagreement persisted among the team over how broad the complaint should be and what Google could do to resolve the problems the government uncovered. The lawyers viewed the deadline as arbitrary.

While there were disagreements about tactics, career lawyers also expressed concerns that Mr. Barr wanted to announce the case in September to take credit for action against a powerful tech company under the Trump administration.

But Mr. Barr felt that the department had moved too slowly and that the deadline was not unreasonable, according to a senior Justice Department official.

A former telecom industry executive who argued an antitrust matter before the Supreme Court, Mr. Barr has shown a deep interest in the Google investigation. He has requested regular briefings on the department’s case, taking thick binders of information about it on trips and vacations and returning with ideas and notes.

When Mr. Barr imposed a deadline on the investigation, some lawyers feared that the move was in keeping with his willingness to override the recommendations of career lawyers in cases that are of keen interest to President Trump, who has accused Google of bias against him.

The Google case could also give Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr an election-season achievement on an issue that both Democrats and Republicans see as a major problem: the influence of the biggest tech companies over consumers and the possibility that their business practices have stifled new competitors and hobbled legacy industries like telecom and media.

A coalition of 50 states and territories support antitrust action against Google, a reflection of the broad bipartisan support that a Justice Department case might have. But state attorneys general conducting their own investigations into the company are split on how to move forward, with Democrats perceived by Republicans as slow-walking the work so that cases can be brought under a potential Biden administration, and Democrats accusing Republicans of rushing it out under Mr. Trump. That disagreement could limit the number of states that join a Justice Department lawsuit and imperil the bipartisan nature of the investigation.

Some lawyers in the department worry that Mr. Barr’s determination to bring a complaint this month could weaken their case and ultimately strengthen Google’s hand, according to interviews with 15 lawyers who worked on the case or were briefed on the department’s strategy. They asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

Brianna Herlihy, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on the continuing investigation. Jose Castaneda, a spokesman for Google, said that the company would “continue to engage with ongoing investigations” and that its business practices enabled “increased choice and competition.”

When the Justice Department opened its inquiry into Alphabet in June 2019, career lawyers in the antitrust division were eager to take part. Some within the division described it as the case of the century, on par with the breakup of Standard Oil after the Gilded Age. It also offered a chance for the United States to catch up to European regulators who had been aggressive watchdogs of the technology sector.

Alphabet was an obvious antitrust target. Through YouTube, Google search, Google Maps and a suite of online advertising products, consumers interact with the company nearly every time they search for information, watch a video, hail a ride, order delivery in an app or see an ad online. Alphabet then improves its products based on the information it gleans from every user interaction, making its technology even more dominant.

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Credit…Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

For nearly a year, dozens of Justice Department lawyers and other staff members worked in two groups, each overseeing a separate line of inquiry: Google’s dominance in search and its control over many aspects of the ecosystem for online advertising.

Google controls about 90 percent of web searches globally, and rivals have complained that the company extended its dominance by making its search and browsing tools defaults on phones with its Android operating system. Google also captures about one-third of every dollar spent on online advertising, and its ad tools are used to supply and auction ads that appear across the internet.

The Justice Department amassed powerful evidence of anticompetitive practices, three people said.

But the lawyers also described internal politics that at times slowed down the department’s work or drove a wedge among members of the team.

Makan Delrahim, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, had pushed the department to investigate Google but was recused from the case because he represented the company in a 2007 acquisition that helped it to dominate the online advertising market.

In an unusual move, Mr. Barr placed the investigation under Jeffrey A. Rosen, the deputy attorney general, whose office would not typically oversee an antitrust case. Mr. Barr and Mr. Delrahim also disagreed on how to approach the investigation, and Mr. Barr had told aides that the antitrust division had been asleep at the switch for decades, particularly in scrutinizing the technology industry.

Mr. Rosen does have a tech background: He was the lead counsel for Netscape Communications when it filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft in 2002.

In October, Mr. Rosen hired Ryan Shores, a veteran antitrust lawyer, to lead the review and vowed to “vigorously seek to remedy any violations of law, if any are found.”

Mr. Barr also had a counselor from his own office, Lauren Willard, join the team as his liaison. She met with staff members and requested information about the investigation. She also issued directives and made proposals about next steps.

The case seemed to have two leaders who were not always in sync about who was in charge, and one of them sat in the office of the attorney general.

As debates among the team arose over how best to move forward against Google — primarily over whether to file a complaint that included both the search and advertising elements, or to focus on one line of attack — lawyers wondered who would have the last word. Mr. Barr stepped in this spring to clarify that Mr. Shores was in charge. Ms. Willard still had a hand in Google, but she stepped back from the case to focus on other assignments.

State attorneys general also disagreed on whether to bring a narrow case that could be filed during Mr. Trump’s presidency or to take more time to file a broader complaint. Attorney General Phil Weiser of Colorado, a Democrat who worked in the Obama Justice Department, drove the effort to bring a broad lawsuit, three people with knowledge of his plans said. But Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, a Republican, was in the advanced stages of a case focused on Google’s advertising technology and felt that it could be brought quickly.

A spokesman for Mr. Weiser declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. Paxton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When the Justice Department this summer shared a potential approach to the case, several state attorneys general viewed it as too narrow for them to support, said one person who was familiar with the presentation.

Google’s lawyers hope to seize on Mr. Trump’s politicization of the matter should the Justice Department sue the company. Republican lawmakers like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, have accused platforms like YouTube and Facebook of censoring conservative voices.

Data from the companies undermine their claims, showing that Republicans are among the most visible figures on their services. And few figures have as much reach on social media as Mr. Trump himself.

But the president had made the accusations personal. In 2018, he said that when searching for “Trump News,” Google’s search engine turned up only reports from news organizations that he said were biased against him.

“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media,” he said on Twitter. “In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others.” He also said Google had potentially violated the law.

Mr. Barr recently echoed the president’s criticism and said that antitrust laws could be used to keep companies from restricting the spread of conservative views.

Many career staff members in the antitrust division, including more than a dozen who were hired during the Trump administration, considered the evidence solid that Google’s search and advertising businesses violated antitrust law. But some told associates that Mr. Barr was forcing them to come up with “half-baked” cases so he could unveil a complaint by Sept. 30, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

Some lawyers who felt they needed more time laid out their concerns in the memo and left the case; about 20 lawyers remain on the team. Department lawyers said that Mr. Shores planned to slim down the team this summer. Some people also left because the coronavirus pandemic had made it hard for them to dedicate time to the case. A lawyer in the department’s civil division joined the remaining members of Mr. Shores’s team.

The department approached litigators from at least three outside law firms to take on a potential case, according to two people with knowledge of the talks. But they all declined, citing conflicts of interest and other logistical obstacles created by the pandemic.

David McCabe contributed reporting.