Categories: LegalRegulation

Landmark Google US Antitrust Case Heads For Court

A major US Department of Justice lawsuit against Google is to see its first day in court on Tuesday, in what is being seen as a watershed moment for the tech industry.

The case is the first out of numerous recent antitrust lawsuits against the company to have reached trial, and is the biggest Justice Department challenge to the tech industry since its 2001 antitrust case against Microsoft.

A successful federal antitrust case resulted in the 1982 breakup of AT&T, seen as paving the way for competition in mobile phone services, but such cases can have a major impact even if they do not result in an outright win.

The Justice Department dropped its 1969 lawsuit against IBM 13 years after it was originally filed, but the case is seen as aiding the rise of a new generation of companies including Microsoft.

Tech industry landmark

Microsoft, in turn, avoided being broken up whe the agency settled its 2001 antitrust case against the company, but former Microsoft executives said the battle made the company more beaucratic and slow, with new products having to pass through multiple legal reviews before release.

That may have helped newer companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google find success in a new generation of technologies including smartphones, social media and internet search.

The DOJ case focuses narrowly on Google’s internet search, and a network of deals it says illegally help maintain the search engine’s vast popularity, after a judge threw out other claims such as that the search page design harmed rivals such as Expedia and Yelp.

The department alleges Google pays billions each year to “secure default status for its general search engine and, in many cases, to specifically prohibit Google’s counterparties from dealing with Google’s competitors”, something Google denies.

‘Legal and pro-competitive’

Judge Amit P Mehta said in filings unsealed last month noted that Google had nearly 90 percent market share, but added that “a company with monopoly power acts unlawfully only when its conduct stifles competition”.

“We look forward to showing at trial that promoting and distributing our services is both legal and pro-competitive,” said Google chief legal officer Kent Walker in response to Mehta’s remarks.

He has said separately that the case is “deeply flawed” and that people use Google “because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives”.

The trial, scheduled to take just over two months, is expected to see testimony from top Google executives including chief executive Sundar Pichai.

iPhone ‘deal’

Testimony from Apple, including three senior executives who report directly to chief executive Tim Cook, is also expected to be critical.

The Justice Department alleges a Google deal with Apple to make its search engine default on iPhones is worth up to $15 billion (£12bn) a year, but Apple says it uses Google because it’s the best available.

Rival DuckDuckGo is expected to testify that it is overly complicated for smartphone users to switch their default search from Google to a competitor.

The Justice Department in January also filed a separate antitrust case against Google over its advertising business.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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