Google cheated in efforts to dominate search, US says
Tech giant allegedly paid billions of dollars to firms and took steps to hide evidence
The US argued on Tuesday that Google did not play by the rules in its efforts to keep its dominance in online search, paying $10bn to ensure that smaller rivals never got traction.
“This case is about the future of the internet,” said Kenneth Dintzer, arguing for the Justice Department that Google began to illegally maintain its monopoly in 2010.
The US Justice Department accuses Google of paying billions of dollars annually to device makers such as Apple, wireless companies such as AT&T and browser makers such as Mozilla to give Google’s search engine a market share of about 90%.
Dintzer said Google also manipulated auctions for adverts placed on the internet to raise prices for advertisers.
“Defaults are powerful, scale matters and Google illegally maintained a monopoly for more than a decade,” said Dintzer. The consequences are that without serious competition, Google innovated less and paid less attention to other concerns such as privacy, he said.
Dintzer also said the department found evidence that Google had taken steps to protect communications about the payments it made to companies. “They knew these agreements crossed antitrust lines,” he said.
Dintzer showed a chat where Google CEO Sundar Pichai asked for the history of a certain chat to be turned off.
Google’s defence is simple: it argues that its overwhelmingly high market share is not because it broke the law, but because it is a fast, effective search engine. It is also free.
Google's lawyers will argue that consumers can delete the Google app from their devices or simply type Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo into a browser to use an alternative search engine. They also will argue that consumers stick with Google because they rely on it to answer questions and are not disappointed.
Opening arguments in the trial occurred before a packed federal court in Washington, DC. The trial is expected to last up to 10 weeks, with two phases. In the first, Judge Amit Mehta will decide if Google has broken antitrust law in how it manages search and search advertising.
If Google is found to have broken the law, Judge Mehta will then decide how best to resolve it. He may decide simply to order Google to stop practices he has found to be illegal or he may order Google to sell assets.
The government, in its complaint, asked for “structural relief as needed”, but did not define it.
The legal fight has huge implications for Big Tech, which has been accused of buying or strangling small competitors but has insulated itself against many accusations of breaking antitrust law because the services the companies provide to users are free, as in the case of Google, or inexpensive, as in the case of Amazon.com.
Previous major antitrust trials include Microsoft, filed in 1998, and AT&T, filed in 1974. The AT&T break-up in 1982 is credited with paving the way for the modern mobile phone industry, while the fight with Microsoft is credited with opening space for Google and others on the internet.
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