Google finds itself at the center of its most significant legal challenge to date as it defends against accusations from the US government of unlawful practices in building its dominant position in online search. In a Washington court, over ten weeks of testimonies from more than 100 witnesses will be presented as Google seeks to convince a federal judge that the Department of Justice’s landmark case lacks merit. This trial marks the most substantial antitrust lawsuit against a tech giant since Microsoft faced similar allegations over two decades ago.
The outcome of this case will have far-reaching consequences for the future operations of technology platforms, given the significant advancements in technology over the past 20 years. According to John Lopatka, an expert from Penn State’s School of Law, the progress made in the tech industry since Microsoft’s case means that the results of this trial will shape the landscape for tech platforms moving forward.
The core of the Google case revolves around the government’s accusation that the company employed illegal tactics to solidify its control over online search. The Department of Justice claims that Google entered into exclusive contracts with device manufacturers, mobile operators, and other companies, leaving no opportunity for competitors to compete. Allegedly, through payments worth billions of dollars each year to Apple, Samsung, and carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T, Google ensured its search engine’s default status on phones and web browsers, guaranteeing its success while stifling competition.
The Department of Justice’s lawsuit argues that the Google of today is far removed from the scrappy start-up that once dominated Silicon Valley as an innovative search engine. Google’s actions and practices have transformed significantly over time, leading to the allegations of antitrust violations brought against the company. The biggest casualties in this case are its rival search engines, such as Bing and DuckDuckGo, which have struggled to gain significant market share against Google’s overwhelming dominance.
Google, on its part, contends that its success stems from the unparalleled quality of its search engine, which has consistently been recognized as superior since its launch in 1998 by founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page. Kent Walker, Google’s president of global affairs, argues that people choose Google not out of necessity but because they genuinely prefer its search engine above all others.
The trial will be overseen and decided by Judge Amit P. Mehta, who will issue a ruling several months after the three-month hearing concludes. The implications for Google are immense if Mehta upholds any or all of the government’s arguments. Remedial action could involve a breakup of Google’s sprawling business or an order to revamp its operational practices. While Google has already faced significant legal action in Europe and received hefty fines for antitrust violations, the appeals process is still ongoing. Regardless of Mehta’s decision, it is highly likely that both sides will appeal, potentially prolonging the case for years to come.
The case against Google was initiated during the Trump administration and carried over into President Joe Biden’s term. Biden has also expressed a willingness to confront tech giants, although concrete actions have yet to materialize. In January, the Department of Justice under Biden launched a separate case against Google regarding its advertising business, which may go to trial next year. Additionally, Google faces other lawsuits from US states, accusing the company of monopolistic practices in ad tech and impeding competition in its Google Play app store. On Tuesday, Google and the states announced that they had reached an agreement in principle to settle the Google Play case.
Google’s legal battle against the US government represents a critical moment for the tech industry. The outcome of this case will not only shape Google’s future but will also set a precedent for how tech platforms operate moving forward. As the trial unfolds, the world watches with anticipation, awaiting Judge Mehta’s ruling and the potential transformation of Google’s dominant position in the online search market.