Everything we know (so far)
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”.
Google admits it quietly increases ad prices without telling advertisers (Sept. 18)
- Google has admitted to quietly tweaking advertising auctions to meet revenue targets.
- The search engine “frequently” changes the auctions it uses to sell search ads, increasing the cost of ads and reserve pricing by as much as 5% for the average advertiser.
- For some queries, the tech giant may have even raised prices by as much as 10%, according to Google Ad executive, Jerry Dischler at the federal antitrust trial.
- Google tends “not to tell advertisers about pricing changes”, he added.
- If Google can raise ad prices without facing significant competition, it could strengthen the Justice Department’s case that Google holds an illegal monopoly. This is an argument the department can’t use against Google’s search engine itself, as it’s a free product for users. However, they can argue that increased competition could have addressed other issues, such as privacy standards, in the search industry.
DOJ objects Google’s request to remove public from courtroom (Sept. 18)
- Google’s lawyer Schmidtlein asked for discussions of pricing to take place in a closed session, reports Reuters.
- If this request was granted, the public and press would be forced to leave the courtroom.
- However, David Dahlquist, senior trial counsel in the antitrust division at the DOJ, objected, arguing: “This satisfies public interest because it’s at the core of the DOJ case against Google.”
Verizon appears to contradict Google (Sept. 19)
- Brian Higgins, Verizon’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, claimed he did not see the purpose in making a specialized search platform like Yelp the default option on Android phones, reports Big Tech on Trial.
- His open-court testimony appeared to support the DOJ’s argument that Google competes primarily in the general search market, pitted against services like Bing and DuckDuckGo.
- Google, however, disputed this claim, arguing that it also contends with specialized search platforms like Yelp, Expedia, and Amazon for specific user queries.
- Higgins also testified that Verizon didn’t seek bids from other search providers during the recent renegotiation of the default search engine deal with Google.
- This contradicts Google’s defense that it obtains exclusive contracts through fair competition, as previous years saw competition between Microsoft and Google for the default search engine position.
DOJ removes Google evidence from its website (Sept. 20)
- Google lawyer John Schmidtlein complained to Judge Amit Mehta that the DOJ was sharing every piece of evidence with the public.
- The judge told the court he was surprised to learn the DOJ had not informed him before publishing evidence on its website.
- DOJ attorney Kenneth Dintzer quickly apologized and all documents were then shortly taken down.
- Now that access to vital evidence has been taken away, it’s going to be a lot tougher for the public to keep up with this landmark case, which could shape the future of the Internet.
Google is ‘using clicks in rankings’ (Sept. 20)
- Former 17-year employee of Google, Eric Lehman, who worked as a software engineer on search quality and ranking told the trial that “pretty much everyone knows we’re using clicks in rankings.”
- He added: “That’s the debate: ‘Why are you trying to obscure this issue if everyone knows? ‘”
- Lehman also claimed that Google’s machine learning systems BERT and MUM are becoming more important than user data, and that Google will rely more heavily on machine learning to evaluate text than user data.
- According to reporting from Big Tech on Trial (via X), Lehman said: “We try to avoid confirming that we use user data in the ranking of search results.”
- The reporter X post said: “I didn’t get great notes on this, but I think the reason had something to do with not wanting people to think that SEO could be used to manipulate search results.”
DuckDuckGo calls out Google (Sept. 21)
- DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg told the court that changing a default search engine is “way harder than it needs to be.”
- He added: “If you switch some of these defaults eventually you’re just going to be switched back to Google if you do nothing.”
- His comments come after Google claimed that changing a default search engine is easy.
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What have Google’s competitors said?
- DuckDuckGo: CEO of the privacy-focused search engine and internet browser company, Gabriel Weinberg, testified that his company had attempted to negotiate deals to become the default search engine on some products. However, he alleged he was unsuccessful as Google already had deals in place, reports Big Tech On Trial.
- During Weinberg’s cross-examination by Google, Google’s lawyer pointed out that DuckDuckGo’s market share is lower in Europe compared to the United States, even in countries where a default search engine choice screen has been introduced.
- Weinberg stated in his testimony that he believed the choice screens in Europe were designed in a manner that didn’t offer users a significant choice, but insisted that a more efficient choice screen could be implemented.
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.