FOR THE WEEK OF SEP. 25, 2023
Google on trial: U.S. Justice Department accuses the search giant of illegal monopoly tactics
Share a fact or quote from different news about the Internet or digital technology.
Is a court case in your city or state making headlines? What's it about?
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Google is the defendant in a high-stakes federal case underway in a Washington, D.C. court. At issue: Has the online search leader used its size and power to create an unfair playing field? The Justice Department argues that the company illegally gained monopoly status by paying Apple, Samsung, LG and Motorola billions of dollars to make Google the default search engine on phones. Apple also agreed not to redirect Google searches to its voice-activated Siri assistant, says government lawyer Kenneth Dintzer, adding: "This is a monopolist flexing."
Google, a global giant based in northern California, controls more than 90 percent of online search and related advertising. The nonjury trial that started this month is America's first major anti-monopoly (also called antitrust) case since the Justice Department sued Microsoft in 1998 for allegedly forcing Windows operating system users to adopt Internet Explorer as their browser. The two sides settled three years later. By comparison, Google (valued near two trillion dollars) is ten times the size that Microsoft was in the 1990s.
A Justice Department prosecutor recently opened the new case, which could last up to 10 weeks, by arguing that Google sees deals with Android and iPhone makers as a "powerful strategic weapon" to cut out rivals such as Microsoft's Bing and a newcomer called DuckDuckGo. Google's attorney responded: "Users today have more search options and more ways to access information online than ever before," and can switch search engines easily. According to Google, it's the default browser on phones because it "successfully competed on the merits—that is, on the basis of product quality and price."
The case, filed in 2020 under the Trump administration, now is part of a Biden administration effort to rein in large tech firms. A separate Justice Department suit against Google over its advertising technology could go to trial as early as next year. The Federal Trade Commission is moving toward a trial in an antitrust lawsuit against Meta, parent company of Facebook and Instagram. Separate investigations could bring antitrust suits against Amazon and Apple. In the current Google case, the government hasn't said what penalties it would seek to impose if it wins. One potential remedy is a "choice screen," which Google introduced overseas in 2019 to satisfy antitrust authorities in European Union countries. Users there can pick a search engine from a list instead of being defaulted to Google.
Google says: "The number one search query on Bing worldwide is 'Google,' which tells you something about the fact that most people actually prefer using the Google search engine." – Kent Walker, president of global affairs
Expert says: "It is a test of whether our current antitrust laws — the Sherman Act, written in 1890 — can adapt to markets that are susceptible to monopolization in the 21st century." – Bill Baer, former top antitrust official at the Justice Department
Professor says: "Judge [Amit] Mehta should force Google to sell off its Chrome browser (which has a roughly 63-percent market share) and ban the company's 'pay for default' deals with the operating systems for Apple and Android phones." – Tim Wu, Columbia University Law School