In what is likely to be the most important technical trial of the modern Internet era, the US Department of Justice claims that Google has become an “illegal monopoly” for search and Internet ad sales that needs to be broken up.
Probably the most consequential technical trial of the 21st century began Tuesday morning in a US District Court in Washington, DC. , for allegedly strong-arming their way into a monopoly on our search engine use and the internet ad sales market,
Yes, Google is the first search engine you see, and the automatic default search engine, on most connected devices. But, as the Associated Press reports, the government alleges that Google illegally orchestrated this with billion-dollar backroom deals to grab a dominant 90% share of the search engine market, monopolizing “ad tech” ad sales to run through them .
“Over the past 15 years, Google has engaged in a course of competitive and exclusionary behavior that has consisted of neutralizing or eliminating ad tech competitors through acquisitions; exercising its dominance over digital advertising markets to force more publishers and advertisers to to use their products; and promoting the ability to use competing products,” the Justice Department said when it filed the complaint in January. “In doing so, Google confirmed its dominance in tools trusted by website publishers and online advertisers, as well as the digital ad exchange that runs ad auctions.”
The case was actually launched in 2020 by then-Attorney General William Barr under the Trump administration. But Google, being Google, has an army of elite, high-profile lawyers ready to back the government’s case.
The New York Times has an overview of the major players in this case. The federal judge is Obama appointed Amit P. Mehta. The government’s case will be run by Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Jonathan Kanter, Google’s top lawyer is the company’s president of global affairs Kent Walker. The current Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai is expected to testify.
A separate Times report details the opening arguments that began Tuesday, where the government argued that Google paid $10 billion a year to Samsung and Apple to make Google the default search engine on their mobile devices, and on browsers like Safari and Firefox to make Google the default on their search engines.
And another AP report adds that the Justice Department alleges that Google removed documents showing they were doing this, indicating they knew full well it was an illegal practice.
Google maintains that they have achieved dominance simply because people like their product better.
“People don’t use Google because they have to — they use it because they want to,” her attorney Walker said in a statement to NPR. “It’s easy to switch your default search engine—we’re long past the era of dial-up Internet and CD-ROMs.”
The trial is expected to last ten weeks (not in a row, there will be breaks), and is likely to conclude in early 2024. There is no jury, so the final call is Judge Mehta’s to make. If Mehta rules against Google, the sentence would be decided in a separate trial, with a different judge. That judge could split Alphabet into separate companies, or simply ban exclusive deals with browsers and mobile device manufacturers, or simply impose a large fine.
If Google is taken down sounds unlikely, remember that it happened to Microsoft in 2001. Children, back in those days, the dominant search engine was something called Internet Explorer, and Microsoft forced it on pretty much every PC on the market. Almost everyone used a Mac back then! Apple seemed like a dying brand at the time, but had just begun its historic turnaround. And rival startups like Apple — and Google — feasted on the market share gained by Microsoft’s loss in a federal antitrust case. So history can repeat itself here.
Related: Almost every state except California is coming after Google in antitrust action (SFist)
Image: PARIS, FRANCE – JUNE 14: The Google logo is displayed during the Viva Technology conference at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on June 14, 2023 in Paris, France. Viva Technology, the biggest tech show in Europe, but also in a unique digital format, for 4 days of reconnecting and relaunching through innovation. The event brings together startups, CEOs, investors, technical leaders and all the digital transformation players who are shaping the future of the Internet. The annual technology conference, also known as VivaTech, was founded in 2016 by Publicis Groupe and Groupe Les Echos and is dedicated to promoting innovation and startups. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
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