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US vs Google landmark antitrust trial begins today, here’s all you need to know

The outcome of this lawsuit will set a global precedent as Google is under regulatory scrutiny around the world, including the European Union and India.

The United States government’s antitrust lawsuit against Google is set to be heard by US District Judge Amit Mehta starting today (September 12, 2023). The trial is being seen as the biggest challenge against a tech giant by the US government since the landmark 1998 battle against Microsoft over bundling Internet Explorer. The outcome of this lawsuit will set a global precedent as Google is under regulatory scrutiny around the world, including the European Union and India.

What is the lawsuit about: The lawsuit alleges that Google used anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopoly in the search engine and search advertising market. It was filed by the Department of Justice (DoJ), along with several state Attorneys General, in October 2020. This is not to be confused with a separate lawsuit by the DoJ against Google’s sprawling digital advertising business.

What are the allegations against Google: The DoJ has noted that Google accounts for almost 90 percent of all search queries in the US and acts as a monopoly gatekeeper to the internet by using anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in search and search advertising. The agency listed out the following anticompetitive tactics engaged by the company to make Google the default (and sometimes only) general search engine on billions of mobile devices and computers worldwide:

  • Multi-billion dollar deal with Apple to make Google the default general search engine on the Safari browser and other Apple services like Siri and Spotlight.
  • Exclusivity agreements with device manufacturers and browsers that prohibit preinstallation of any competing search service.
  • Forced preinstallation of Google Search in prime locations on Android devices as part of a bundle of core apps and making these apps undeletable.
  • It uses its monopoly profits to enter into revenue-sharing agreements for preferential treatment for its search engine on devices, web browsers, and other search access points.

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What has Google’s anticompetitive behavior resulted in: According to the DoJ, Google’s anticompetitive conduct has resulted in harmful effects on competition and consumers by foreclosing any meaningful search competitor from gaining vital distribution and scale. “By restricting competition in search, Google’s conduct has harmed consumers by reducing the quality of search (including on dimensions such as privacy, data protection, and use of consumer data), lessening choice in search, and impeding innovation. By suppressing competition in advertising, Google has the power to charge advertisers more than it could in a competitive market and to reduce the quality of the services it provides them,” the DoJ noted.

What is Google’s stance: Predictably, Google has maintained that it has not engaged in any anticompetitive conduct. Concerning the agreements signed by the company with Apple and others, Google argues that it is standard practice and not different from what other companies engage in to promote their products and services. This does not exclude competing search engines and companies, and people prefer Google because it is superior in quality. Google also claims that there is competition in the advertising business, and users can easily switch search engines on Android.

What could happen if the US government wins: The lawsuit seeks that the court prohibit Google from engaging in antitrust behaviour, and break up the company if needed. In other words, Google will be asked to discontinue its anticompetitive agreements and prevented from engaging in new ones, which could hurt the company’s prospects in emerging markets like AI. In the worst case, though unlikely, Google may be asked to break up its business to make Search a separate company.

What next: The trial at the US District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington DC will hear the lawsuit over the next 10 weeks. A verdict is expected only in 2024 and it can be appealed.

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