Google and the federal government will face off in a trial next week that could reshape how the tech giant is structured and the future of antitrust enforcement against tech platforms.
The trial is kicking off nearly three years after the Department of Justice (DOJ) and a coalition of states’ attorneys general filed the complaint. The suit alleges Google has an anticompetitive monopoly over the search market.
Google alleges DOJ antitrust head has ‘deep-seated bias’
It is the first major antitrust lawsuit against a major tech company since the U.S. sued Microsoft in the late 90s. The Google case is shaping up to be a critical test for a new generation of dominant tech platforms amid years of mounting bipartisan scrutiny.
“It’s the biggest monopolization case the United States has seen in a generation,” said Bill Baer, who served as assistant attorney general in charge of the DOJ antitrust division during the Obama administration.
Baer said the outcome of the Google trial will have “significant implications” for other dominant firms that rose to power over the past two decades.
“How do the rules of the road apply to these dominant firms? Even if they became dominant through legitimate behavior, are they staying dominant through misconduct that limits the opportunity of rivals to emerge and give consumers the benefit of a competitive marketplace?” Baer said.
Why the DOJ says Google is harming consumers
The federal government alleges that Google is harming consumers by stifling innovation in online search tools and limiting choice.
Google has maintained an illegal monopoly over online search through exclusive agreements that preinstall its search application on devices, the DOJ aruged. This, the government alleges, allowed Google to become the dominant search engine over its rivals.
How the DOJ plans to face off with Google
Federal prosecutors are likely to argue that Google is not allowing a free market of rivals who could offer search choices with better technical perks — like the speed at which search results are presented — and on policy choices, such as more stringent data privacy practices.
And as artificial intelligence (AI) technology ramps up, the DOJ may also aruge that Google could leverage its market power into the new technology and further stifle innovation.
Google denies allegations of anticompetitive behavior
Google has pushed back strongly on the allegations of anticompetitive behavior.
The company argues that their products and services are more popular because they are simply better, not because Google has titled the playing field away from potential rivals.
“We’re proud that browser makers opt to show Google Search based on the quality of our products,” Google’s president of global affairs Kent Walker said in a blog post Friday.
Walker’s post cited comments from Apple CEO Tim Cook from 2018, who called Google’s search engine “the best” while defending the deal making Google the default search option.
Google will also argue that their contracts to be default search engines on browsers are not exclusive and do not limit competition. The company argues that users can easily set a new default search engine and and their contracts do not limit access to other search options.
“In short, our success comes down to the quality of our products, not the quantity of our contracts,” Walker said.
Google plans to call some of their customers, including executives from tech giants like Apple, to testify about choosing their products and the agreements in question.
Google will also share stories about the innovations the company has fostered, such as pivoting from desktop to mobile, to make search more useful for the mobile world.
Judge Amit Mehta has already narrowed the scope of claims that the government can focus on during the trial.
In a decision unsealed last month, Mehta tossed out allegations that Google has weakened competition by harming rival companies, such as Yelp or Expedia, by boosting its own products in search results.
Walker touted that decision as an example of how the government’s case is “deeply flawed.”
What are the next steps in the case?
The DOJ and coalition of states are expected to take several weeks making their case against Google, after which the company will be allowed to present their defense.
The trial is expected to last 10 weeks and will be split into two distinct phases: The first will be whether the government successfully made the that Google is an illegal monopoly, and the second will cover potential remidies.
Baer said the government coult potentially propose breaking up Google or a prohibition on the types of agreements and payments the company can make to promote its search engine.
How the DOJ plans to limit Google’s influence could have serious implicatons for the broader tech sector, experts said.
“This is about opening up the ability to compete with Google on search,” said Katie Van Dyke, senior legal counsel at the American Economic Liberties Project, a nonprofit that supports stronger antitrust enforcement
AELP has strongly supported the federal government’s case against Google and congressional proposals for broader antitrust reform.
As the Google search case heads into trial, a separate DOJ case targeting the company’s dominance in the ad tech market is underway.
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