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After three years, a Washington, DC, judge will hear the Department of Justice’s potentially landmark antitrust case against Google. The department alleges Google struck anticompetitive deals with Apple and other companies for prime placement of its search engine, while Google contends its dominant market share is the result of a superior product. It’s the biggest tech antitrust trial since the US took on Microsoft in the 1990s: 10 weeks that could tip the balance of power online.
Breaking down the Google antitrust trial.
The first day of US v. Google has wrapped up (with a blow-by-blow readthrough of an email argument from 2009, which I don’t think Google’s lawyers found as funny as I did), and I’m headed back to New York — I’ll have more details tomorrow.
For now, if you’d like an overview of what this whole case is about, I appeared on Today, Explained to… well, do exactly what the podcast’s name suggests.
Opening arguments in US v. Google just ended! Only ten weeks left to go.
I’ve just finished lunch after the Department of Justice, a group of state attorneys general, and Google made their opening arguments in today’s antitrust trial.
The Department of Justice wants Judge Amit Mehta to focus on “what Google did” — which, in its evaluation, is sign a bunch of restrictive Google Search exclusivity agreements with Apple, Mozilla, and Android manufacturers. Google is arguing that the whole trial is a gift to Microsoft, which (again, in its evaluation) has dismally failed to compete with Google on Search.
There’s no public feed after opening statements, but I’ll be back in court soon to watch the Department of Justice question Google’s chief economist Hal Varian about default search settings. Oh, and there’s a guy in a fake mustache and monocle wandering the halls.
“We don’t have good data on actual user switching.”
Judge Mehta interrupts Google’s opening statements to ask an important question: there’s all this talk about the power of defaults, and about how easy it is or is not to switch search engines, but does anyone actually switch? Google evidently doesn’t have good data on whether people do, so we might not get hard numbers here. But it’s a good question!
The conventional wisdom, of course, is that nobody switches. Mehta says he knows that.
Bing is already Google’s punching bag for the trial.
The government’s argument: Nobody uses Bing because Google made it impossible. Google’s argument so far: nobody uses Bing because Bing sucks. Google’s attorneys are making the case that Microsoft is as well-resourced as anyone to compete, and yet even Windows users mostly pick Google because Google is simply better.
No matter who wins this trial, this is going to be a tough 10 weeks of testimony for Bing.
There’s still an ads case inside this search case against Google.
The big-picture “is Google crushing all possible search competitors” question will dominate US v. Google, but there’s another allegation in here as well: whether Google prevented Microsoft from getting access to SA360, Google’s search marketing tool. The state attorneys are deep in that argument now, arguing that it’s yet another way Google manipulates the search market for its own gain.
Google opening up its tools to its competitor? “It’s like waiting for a Yankee fan to invite you to a Met game,” the attorney said. “Not gonna happen.”
What makes a search engine a search engine?
One key question of the US v. Google trial — and any antitrust trial, really — is the size of the market. Google will argue that everything from ChatGPT to TikTok is a real threat in the space, and competition is everywhere. The government is going to try and argue, as attorney Kenneth Dintzer already has, that the market is “general search,” and that that’s really only Google and Bing. Which means it’s really only Google.
Judge Mehta is already poking at this argument, though — it sounds like he’s not convinced that “general search” is a wholly unique thing. This is going to be important.
50 percent of Google searches allegedly come through a paid-for default deal.
Opening arguments are underway! Some folks are in the courtroom, where there are no electronics allowed, because this is a trial about the internet and technology, so, sure. The rest of us are listening through an AT&T conferencing line, which feels very fitting for a modern antitrust trial.
Two interesting things already: Judge Amit Mehta asked when Google became a monopoly, and government attorney Kenneth Dintzer said that Google has been illegally maintaining its monopoly since 2010. (Meaning it has been a monopoly even longer.) And Dintzer said in response to another question that he believes fully half of Google searches come through a paid-for spot in a search bar.
“Defaults matter, but they’re not determinative.”
If you want a one-sentence summary of Google’s arguments ahead of the start of US v. Google today, that one — from Kent Walker, the company’s president of global affairs — does the job pretty well. This issue of Platformer from a few days ago does a good job of running down both sides of the story we’re going to hear over the next 10 weeks. Is Google great, or is it just unavoidable? We’ll find out.
This morning, the US Department of Justice and Google will begin a 10-week showdown that’s been widely (and appropriately) compared to the Microsoft browser antitrust trial of the 1990s. The Justice Department and a coalition of states allege that Google has maintained its dominance in search by striking expensive deals with browser and phone makers — most prominently Apple, which Google has reportedly paid billions of dollars for default placement in Safari.
The case, originally filed in 2020, could determine the future of Google at a pivotal moment for the company. A loss for Google could signal a new era of tougher antitrust enforcement as the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission pursue cases against nearly every “Big Tech” company. It could also tip the balance of power in a growing AI arms race. But it comes on the heels of some notable losses for US monopoly watchdogs, who have struggled to meet the consumer welfare standard that governs antitrust policy. The trial will stretch for months, but here’s what to expect as the first day begins.
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This is Platformer, a newsletter on the intersection of Silicon Valley and democracy from Casey Newton and Zoë Schiffer. Sign up here.
Today, let’s talk about the US government’s first major antitrust trial against a tech giant in a generation. If the Justice Department succeeds in its case against Google, it could lead to radical change around the web. But almost three years after the case was filed, it’s not clear that the government lawyers will be able to bend antitrust law far enough to secure a victory.
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A federal judge says three Apple executives have to testify in the government’s Google antitrust case.
Lawyers for Eddie Cue, John Giannandrea, and Adrian Perica argued that “traveling 3,000 miles across the country from Northern California to testify at a bench trial” is “unduly burdensome” and would “risk disclosure of Apple’s sensitive commercial information.”
US District Judge Amit Mehta denied their petition and says they must testify at the trial, writes Reuters, which is scheduled to begin September 12th. The trial will decide if Google has monopolistic power in the online ads space.