Google antitrust trial: US government concludes evidentiary phase of lawsuit over search engine monopoly

On November 16, the US government concluded the evidentiary phase of its court case against Google. The company is accused of monopolistic practices in the online search sector. The U.S. Justice Department claims the company uses its market position for gain.

A high-stakes antitrust lawsuit started on September 12. It has seen the US government striving to establish that Google has monopolised the search engine market. The tech giant has also abused this position, it is alleged. 

This case is the first in a series of major legal challenges aimed at curbing the power of tech giants. There are subsequent cases against Meta, Amazon and a second one against Google itself.

During the trial, MIT economics professor Michael Whinston played a pivotal role. The US government’s final witness challenged Google’s assertion of facing competition from Microsoft for pre-installation deals on smartphones. 

He argued that Google’s hefty payments, amounting to $26.3 billion in 2021 to companies like Apple, were essentially monopolistic profits distributed to its partners.

Whinston also highlighted Google’s ability to hike advertisement rates without losing clientele. It is supported by internal experiments conducted by the company. He contended that Google’s dominance, with nearly 90% market share in the US, has led to a lack of incentive to enhance service quality. It ultimately impacted the consumer experience, he argued.

Google’s defence

Google’s defence, however, focused on the legality and competitive nature of these payments. Lawyer John Schmidtlein argued that these were standard revenue-sharing agreements. Those were essential for ensuring that wireless carriers and smartphone manufacturers conduct necessary updates and maintain user data security, according to him.

Schmidtlein emphasised Google’s popularity being a result of its superior quality, referencing instances where consumers expressed dissatisfaction with competitors like Microsoft’s Bing.

Judge Amit Mehta earlier acknowledged the complexity of the decision ahead. “I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Reuters quoted the judge as saying in early May.

(With Reuters inputs)

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Updated: 17 Nov 2023, 07:19 AM IST

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