US Department of Justice claims Google bought its way to web search dominance
We're just better, says Big G
Google is facing charges from the US Department of Justice that it maintains a dominant position in internet search through payments to device makers and browser developers that keep it as the default search option.
The trial began on September 12 with a court hearing in which the US government outlined its case against the internet giant, claiming Google has used anti-competitive practices to maintain its near-monopoly of online searches.
Google's search engine is a key part of its business operations as it is linked to advertising payments that make up about 80 percent of the company's $224 billion revenue, according to estimates, so the stakes are high for the Mountain View outfit.
In his opening statement, Justice Department lawyer Kenneth Dintzer claimed Google had become a monopoly by at least 2010 and currently controls more than 89 percent of the online search market. He said it had abused its monopoly, paying more than $10 billion a year to hold on to its position as the default search option in web browsers and mobile devices, Bloomberg reported.
For its part, Google denied the charges, maintaining that its dominance in search is because it provides a better service than rivals, and payments to partners such as Apple and Mozilla are to compensate them for work to ensure their software gets security updates and other maintenance.
According to Law360, Dintzer recounted how Apple had considered other search engines as the default choice in 2007, but were told by Google: "No default placement – no revenue share."
He also said Google had estimated the losses if Apple switched defaults to Microsoft's Bing when the contract was up for renegotiation in 2016 and called it "significant," adding the company once claimed that losing default search status on Apple would be a "code red situation" because of the large number of users in the US that have iPhones.
But it isn't just iPhones, Google has also ensured that its search engine is the default on every Android phone sold in the US, Dintzer claimed, meaning rival services have little chance of competing.
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Google's legal representative, John Schmidtlein of Williams & Connolly, argued that users have plenty of search options available to them via their browser, and it is easy to switch the default on browsers such as Firefox or Apple's Safari to a different search engine such as Bing, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo. Many users may not be aware of this, of course.
Schmidtlein hit back at claims of Google's monopoly status, pointing out that Microsoft has made Bing the default choice in its own Edge browser and on all Windows computers. Yet users "flock" over from Bing and Edge to Google "because it helps them find what they're looking for," Schmidtlein said.
However, Dintzer asserted that US antitrust law focuses on competition and whether consumers have worse options thanks to Google's actions.
The trial is expected to last up to 10 weeks and will have two phases, according to Reuters. In the first phase, US District Judge Amit Mehta, overseeing the trial, is set to make a decision on whether Google has broken antitrust law.
If the decision goes against Google, the judge will then have to decide how to remedy the situation, which may be to simply order Mountain View to stop the practices found to be illegal. However, it has been suggested that the Justice Department may seek the separation of the search business from the company's other products, like Android and Google Maps.
This is not the only legal fight Google is facing. Another US case that seeks to break up its advertising business saw a number of states joining the Department of Justice lawsuit back in April.
Further afield, the European Commission is considering whether Google might be violating antitrust rules by favoring its own advertising tools over those of rivals, and whether the Chocolate Factory should be broken up in response.
The company is also being sued by a bunch of Dutch consumer organizations over alleged large-scale privacy violations, with the plaintiffs demanding compensation and a halt to the claimed privacy violations by Mountain View. ®