Everything we know (so far)

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Google is on trial for allegedly using underhand tactics to ensure it stays the world’s leading search engine.

The U.S. Justice Department claims Google, which owns a 90% market share in search, paid massive sums to companies like Apple to make it the default search engine on products like the iPhone.

These multibillion-dollar deals gave Google an unfair advantage, the DOJ alleges, making it nearly impossible for rival companies to compete.

The trial will last 10 weeks and include testimonies from key figures like Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

The outcome of the landmark case could bring significant changes to Google and the future of the Internet. But it’s equally likely the trial will result in no changes and Google will be free to continue operating however it wants.

We’ll keep updating this article with the latest developments from this landmark trial.

As the trial is set to cover many Google search-related issues, we have organized the updates by topic to make the timeline easier to follow.

Google credits its 90% market share to being a superior platform (Sept. 12)

  • John Schmidtlein, lead lawyer for Google, claims the company dominates the search market due to being a superior product.
  • Google argues that users can easily switch to rival search engines even if it’s the default.
  • Antonio Rangel, a California Institute of Technology economist, testified that Google’s defaults discourage users from switching, saying switching to a different search engine is not easy.
  • He cited an example where switching to Bing from Google on an Android 12 phone required 10 steps, describing it as “considerable choice friction”, reports Business Insider.

Google ‘hid and destroyed evidence’ (Sept. 12)

  • Justice Department attorney Kenneth Dintzer accused Google of “hiding and destroying documents because they knew they were violating the antitrust laws”, reports Bloomberg.
  • In his opening statement on day one, Dintzer presented evidence to show that Google was knowingly breaking laws.
  • He pointed to an October 2021 chat message from CEO Pichai, which read: “Need the link for my leaders circle tomorrow…can we change the setting of this group to history off… thanks.”
  • When history is off, conversations are auto-deleted after 24 hours.
  • Google declined to comment.

Apple allegedly didn’t want a default search engine (Sept. 12)

  • The DOJ revealed that Apple intended to provide users with a choice screen to select between Google and Yahoo as their search engine.
  • However, Google rejected this proposal with the statement “No default placement, no revenue share,” as stated in an email.
  • Kenneth Dintzer, the lead attorney for the DOJ, characterized Google’s response as a monopolistic action.

Google pays $10 billion a year to maintain default status (Sept. 12)

  • Justice Department attorney Dintzer accused Google of recognizing the important of default status and said this was the reason why the company spent more than $10 billion a year to brands like Apple.
  • Dintzer added that ” this wheel has been turning for more than 12 years and it always turns to Google’s advantage.”
  • He claimed Google staff had previously described losing the company’s search default status on mobile as a “code red situation”.
  • Google’s counterargument said that despite commanding 90% of the search market share, it faces competition from companies like Amazong, Microsoft’s Bing and Yelp.
  • Google attorney John Schmidtlein, added: “There are lots of way users access the web other than default search engines, and people use them all the time.”

Google calls its competition ‘inferior’ (Sept. 12)

  • Google’s lawyer, Schmidtlein, argued in court that the government is pursuing a regressive lawsuit.
  • He said the claims was “all in the hopes that forcing people to use inferior products in the short run will somehow be good for competition in the long run.”

Google’s search engine default status on phones was a ‘priority’ (Sept. 13)

  •  Chris Barton, who worked for Google from 2004 to 2011, said negotiating deals to make Google the default search engine on mobile devices was a top priority during his time at the company.
  • He claimed that in return for default status, phone service providers and manufacturers were guaranteed a portion of ad click revenue.
  • This strategy, central to the government’s antitrust case, aimed to establish Google as the primary search engine across various devices, reports News Bytes.

Google faced competition to become default search engine on mobile (Sept. 13)

  • Former Googler, Barton, emphasized that Google faced competition from other search engines in becoming the default choice for phone companies during his testimony,.
  • In a 2011 email exchange, Google executives observed that AT&T had selected Yahoo as its default search engine, while Verizon had opted for Microsoft’s Bing.
  • Barton testified that he encountered a challenge because mobile carriers were fixated on revenue share percentages.
  • He aimed to convince potential partners that Google’s high-quality searches would lead to more clicks and greater advertising revenue, even with a lower percentage share.

Googlers were told to be mindful of their language (Sept. 13)

  • Google staff were allegedly told back as far as 2023 to avoid using certain terms to avoid being perceived as “monopolists”.
  • A memo written by Google Chief Economist Hal Varian read: “We have to be sensitive about antitrust considerations…We should be careful about what we say in both public and private.”
  • Staff were told to avoid terms like “market share” and “bundle”.

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Verdict. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta isn’t expected to issue a ruling until early next year. If he decides Google broke the law, another trial will decide what steps should be taken to rein in the Mountain View, California-based company.

Why we care: If the US Government wins this case, it could mean Google is no longer automatically installed as the default search engine on everyday products, which could threaten its position as the world’s search leader. This means rival companies like Yahoo could realistically stand a chance of taking Google’s crown for the first time, which could bring significant changes to the search landscape as we know it.

What’s at stake. The U.S. and state allies are not asking for money; they want a court order to stop Google from its alleged unfair practices. This order could greatly affect Google’s business. For example:

  • The court could potentially split up the company as a solution.
  • On a broader scale, the Justice Department might argue that it aims to prevent Google from using its alleged search monopoly to secure exclusive deals in new markets, like AI.

This lawsuit is considered one of the most significant challenges to the tech industry’s dominance since the DOJ sued Microsoft in 1998 for its control of the personal computer market. In that case, the trial court ruled that Microsoft had unlawfully attempted to hinder the rival browser Netscape Navigator. Microsoft ultimately reached a settlement that didn’t break up the company.

If Google’s lead attorney Schmidtelein looks familiar, that may be because he represented Microsoft against the DOJ in the 1998 trial.

Deep dive. Read the US Justice Department’s official statement for more information on why it is suing Google.

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