Google’s antitrust showdown with the US could have a dramatic impact on competition
As a result of the case, new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, could also be marketed to consumers in a different way.
The future of the internet may well be decided in a landmark trial currently taking place in Washington.
One of the largest search engines in the world, Google, is on trial. By paying other companies like Apple to make Google the default search engine on their devices, the search giant is muscling its way to dominance, according to the United States Department of Justice.
Several companies, including Apple, LG, Motorola, and Samsung, pay Google billions of dollars each year to secure default status for its general search engine, according to the Justice Department’s complaint.
The DOJ believes this chokes off competition, such as Microsoft’s Bing and DuckDuckGo, which is privately held.
Despite some estimates of 90 percent market share, Google maintains that its product is superior, not because it pays other companies to be the default option.
Kent Walker, Google’s president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post days before the trial began: “People don’t use Google because they have to – they use it because they want to.” American antitrust law supports the idea of making it easier for consumers to get what they want.
Trial results are not expected until early next year, and either party will almost certainly appeal the outcome. Whatever happens, Google and other Big Tech companies may undergo fundamental changes.
“This is the largest antitrust lawsuit filed against a tech giant in decades. Al Jazeera quoted Eric Chaffee, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, as saying that the technology involved in internet searches could be dramatically changed. It could also affect how new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, emerge and are marketed to consumers.”
As government agencies try to rein in the unprecedented power Big Tech has amassed over the last decade, the Google case is one of a handful of antitrust cases playing out in the US.
The US Federal Trade Commission and 17 states sued Amazon on Tuesday, accusing it of monopolizing its marketplace and forcing merchants to purchase extraneous services, and by forcing sellers to list their products at the cheapest price possible to inflate prices for consumers across the web.
The FTC and 46 states filed an antitrust lawsuit in 2020 against Meta, seeking to break up the company’s ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp. We are still in the middle of that case.
Anu Bradford, a Columbia law professor and author of Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology, says the US has watched from the sidelines when the EU has used its antitrust laws against US tech companies. As resentment grows toward tech companies’ outsized influence, public opinion is changing in the US.”
What is the DOJ’s reasoning for alleging anti-competitive behavior?
The case, officially known as US et al v. Google, is the first antitrust trial involving a tech giant. Under the Trump administration, it was filed in 2020.
There have been testimonies from a number of witnesses, including John Giannandrea, a senior vice president at Apple who was a Google executive when Google partnered with Apple to become the default search engine on iPhones.
Eddy Cue, another top Apple executive who helped negotiate the agreement that makes Google’s search engine Apple’s default choice, testified in court on Tuesday. According to The Verge, Cue admitted Apple had a revenue-sharing agreement with Google for making its search engine the default, but specific numbers were only discussed in closed court sessions.
Furthermore, Cue said Apple chose Google as its default search engine because “there wasn’t a viable alternative to Google at the time.”
In the trial, the DOJ presented documents showing internal communications between senior Google executives, claiming that they revealed the company’s anti-competitive behavior.
According to DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg, Google’s anti-competitive behavior was responsible for the privacy-focused search engine’s 2.5 percent market share.
Weinberg reportedly said switching is more difficult than it needs to be. “There are just too many steps.”
People should be able to choose their default search engine with a single click, something that is still not possible on both iPhones and Androids.
During the court proceedings, Google’s lawyers attempted to downplay this concern by pointing out that it only takes a few taps on iPhones to change the default search engine. According to John Schmidtlein, a lawyer representing the search company, go to settings, select Safari, then search engine. “It takes a matter of seconds.”
The trial focuses on ‘defaults,'” Chengyi Lin, an affiliate professor of strategy at INSEAD, told Al Jazeera. Humans rarely deviate from default settings, according to behavior sciences. The case will, at the very least, bring the idea of choice back into the spotlight for the general public.”
A trial court found that Microsoft hurt Netscape Navigator, a rival browser, by illegally bundling its own Internet Explorer browser with Windows, the world’s most popular operating system, in 1998, the last time the DOJ went after a tech giant. Judges ruled that Microsoft should be split up after finding the company guilty. In 2001, the DOJ overturned that order after reaching a settlement with the company.
It is widely believed that the Microsoft case fostered the growth of other browsers, including Google Chrome, which beat Internet Explorer in 2012 to become the world’s most popular browser.
How do you expect the outcome to turn out?
The case is being presided over by US District Judge Amit Mehta, a private lawyer appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2014. Previously, Mehta was a judge in a case where he blocked Sysco Corp merger with US Foods in 2015 for $3.5 billion.
DOJ must prove that Google’s deals with other companies stifled the growth of other search engines. Under US law, signing such agreements isn’t illegal – unless a company is so big that such agreements harm its competitors.
Mehta could break up Google if Google is found guilty of criminal charges. It could also be ordered to cease continuing existing anticompetitive practices.
Changing the default search engine on your device may become much simpler as a result, leading to more competition in the search space. It could impact how tech companies like Google leverage their existing market dominance to compete in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.
“If the government prevails, Google could be broken up, and the business practices of tech giants would have to change,” Chaffee said. It would have a substantial and far-reaching impact on consumers.”
However, even if Google wins, the nature of antitrust will change.
It may have succeeded in sending a message to Congress that the existing legal frameworks may not be enough to challenge the prevailing antitrust consensus, said Bradford. If Congress wants to change how antitrust laws can be deployed and used to discipline the tech industry, new laws may need to be passed.
The reference news is ALJAZEERA