Google's Antitrust Battle: The High-Stakes Implications for the Internet Search Giant
Google is set to go to court in a high-stakes legal showdown with government officials, accused of antitrust violations in its massive search business. This trial, beginning this week in Washington, marks the culmination of two ongoing lawsuits against Google, initiated during the Trump administration, and is regarded as the country's most significant monopolization case since the government's actions against Microsoft in the 1990s.
Both the Justice Department and numerous states alleged in 2020 that Google was abusing its dominance in online search by striking deals with wireless carriers and smartphone manufacturers, making Google Search the default or exclusive option on products used by millions of consumers. These complaints were eventually consolidated into a single case.
Google has consistently argued that it competes fairly, with consumers choosing its tools based on their quality rather than any illegal restrictions on competition. Google's search business contributes over half of its parent company Alphabet's $283 billion in revenue and $76 billion in net income recorded in 2022, driving the company's market capitalization to over $1.7 trillion.
The upcoming multi-week trial could have a significant impact on how Google distributes its search engine. It is expected to feature testimony from notable witnesses, including former Google and Samsung employees and Apple executives, including senior vice president Eddy Cue. This case is the first in a series of legal challenges aimed at addressing Google's extensive economic power and will test the courts' willingness to regulate large tech platforms.
Kent Walker, Google's President of Global Affairs, characterized the case as a "backward-looking" one at a time when innovation is unprecedented. He emphasized that people choose to use Google because they want to, not because they are forced to. He also pointed out that changing one's default search engine is now effortless, contrasting with the era of dial-up internet and CD-ROMs.
The initial complaint by the US government alleged that Google paid billions of dollars annually to device manufacturers and browser developers to secure its position as the default search engine and, in many cases, prevent them from partnering with Google's competitors. As a result, the complaint claimed that Google effectively controlled approximately 80% of general search queries in the United States.
The lawsuit also asserted that Google's Android operating system agreements with device manufacturers were anticompetitive because they mandated the pre-installation of Google-owned apps, such as Gmail, Chrome, or Maps.
While some allegations were dismissed by the judge overseeing the case, Judge Amit Mehta, the trial remains a significant step in challenging Google's dominance. Mehta noted that Google's position as the default search engine on multiple browsers is a contentious issue that the trial will examine in terms of its market reality.
Furthermore, the Biden administration initiated another antitrust suit against Google in January, targeting the company's advertising technology business, alleging it maintained an illegal monopoly. This case is still in its early stages in a separate court.