SAN FRANCISCO — Google will face off in court Tuesday with government officials who have accused the company of antitrust violations in its vast search business, kicking off a long-awaited legal showdown that could reshape one of the Internet’s most dominant platforms.
The trial, which begins this week in Washington before a federal judge, marks the culmination of two ongoing lawsuits against Google that began during the Trump administration. Legal experts describe the actions as the country’s biggest monopolization case since the US government took on Microsoft in the 1990s.
In separate complaints, the Justice Department and dozens of states accused Google in 2020 of abusing its dominance in online search by allegedly harming competition through deals with wireless carriers and smartphone makers that made Google Search the default or exclusive option for products used by millions of consumers. . The complaints were eventually combined into one case.
Google has maintained that it competes on merit and that consumers prefer its tools because they are the best, and not because it has taken steps to illegally restrict competition. Google’s search business will account for more than half of the $283 billion in revenue and $76 billion in net income that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, posted in 2022. Search has fueled the company’s growth to a market cap of more than $1.7 trillion.
Now the company is about to defend itself in a multi-week trial that could upend the way Google distributes its search engine to users. The case is expected to feature testimony from high-profile witnesses, including former employees of Google and Samsung, along with Apple executives including senior vice president Eddy Cue. It is the first case to go to trial in a series of lawsuits targeting Google’s far-reaching economic power, testing the willingness of courts to take on big tech platforms.
“This is a backward-looking thing at a time of unprecedented innovation,” said Kent Walker, Google President of Global Affairs, “including breakthroughs in AI, new apps and new services, all of which are creating more competition and more options for people then people. ever before. People don’t use Google because they have to – they use it because they want to. It’s easy to switch your default search engine – we’re long past the era of dial-up internet and CD-ROMs.’
The trial could also be a bellwether for the Biden administration’s more assertive antitrust agenda.
In its first complaint, the US government alleged in part that Google pays billions of dollars a year to device makers including Apple, LG, Motorola and Samsung – and browser developers like Mozilla and Opera – to be their default search engine and, in many cases, to ban them from doing business with Google’s competitors.
As a result, the complaint states, “Google effectively owns or controls search distribution channels that account for approximately 80 percent of general searches in the United States.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Google’s Android operating system is anti-competitive with device manufacturers by requiring smartphone companies to pre-install other Google apps, such as Gmail, Chrome or Maps.
When the lawsuit was first filed, U.S. antitrust officials did not rule out the possibility of a Google breakup, warning that Google’s behavior could threaten future innovation or the emergence of a Google successor.
In addition, a group of states, led by Colorado, have made additional accusations against Google, claiming that the way Google structures its search results page harms competition by prioritizing the company’s own apps and services over web pages, links, reviews and content from other third countries. party sites.
But the judge overseeing the case, Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, rejected those claims in a ruling last month, limiting the scope of allegations Google must defend and saying the states had not done enough to A trial was needed to determine whether Google’s search results were anti-competitive.
Despite that ruling, the lawsuit represents the biggest progress the US government has made yet in challenging Google. Mehta has said that Google’s pole position among search engines on browsers and smartphones “is a hotly contested issue” and that the lawsuit will determine “whether, as a matter of actual market realities, Google’s position as the default search engine across browsers constitutes a of exclusionary behavior.”
Meanwhile, in January, the Biden administration launched another antitrust case against Google in opposition to the company’s ad tech business, accusing the company of maintaining an illegal monopoly. That case is still in its early stages in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.