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Google Allegedly Encourages Employees to Avoid Potentially Damaging Language, US Government Claims

 |  September 14, 2023

In the ongoing monopoly case against Alphabet Inc.’s Google, the US government has presented evidence suggesting that the tech giant has instructed its employees to avoid using certain words and phrases when discussing the company. The government alleges that Google has been aware of the scrutiny surrounding its practices and has actively encouraged its employees to avoid creating lasting records of potentially problematic conduct.

According to a report by Bloomberg, an old memo unearthed by the US government for the monopoly case reveals that there are specific phrases Googlers must never use in writing about Google. The memo, dated back to 2003, includes instructions from Google Chief Economist Hal Varian, who emphasized the need for sensitivity regarding antitrust considerations. Varian cautioned employees to be careful about what they say, both publicly and privately, to avoid coming across as monopolistic.

Among the phrases to avoid, Varian highlighted “cutting off their air supply,” a quip previously used by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during the federal antitrust scrutiny faced by Microsoft. Another phrase mentioned in a 2009 Varian email is “market share,” which he suggested should be replaced with “query share” when referring to Google’s portion of the search market.

The sensitivity surrounding the term “share” is particularly relevant as Google commands nearly 90% of the search market, resulting in the majority of ad revenue generated from search results. The US Justice Department and several state attorneys general have accused Google of engaging in unlawful agreements with other major tech companies, such as Apple, to secure prime real estate for its search tools on devices like smartphones. These agreements allegedly hindered competition from rivals like Microsoft and DuckDuckGo.

Related: Google Hires Former DOJ Employees To Face Antitrust Cases

To further support their claims, the government presented evidence of Google’s internal communication practices. Googlers are reportedly trained to have sensitive conversations using the company’s Google Chat product, with a policy called “Communicate with Care.” Under this policy, conversations are set to auto-delete after 24 hours, ensuring that potentially incriminating evidence is not preserved.

During the trial, Justice Department attorney Kenneth Dintzer presented a chat from Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, in which he requested a link for an upcoming meeting and asked for the chat group’s history to be turned off. Dintzer argued that such evidence demonstrates Google’s intention to hide and destroy documents that may implicate the company in antitrust violations.

Google has declined to comment on the allegations made by the US government. However, the company’s attorneys have consistently denied any wrongdoing, asserting that Google’s search engine is preferred by consumers due to its superior technology, rather than any anti-competitive practices.

As the trial continues, the government lawyers have highlighted additional instructions provided to Google employees in a presentation titled “Antitrust Basics for Search Team.” The presentation advises employees to avoid discussions of “scale” and “network effects,” to refrain from leveraging or locking up users/partners, and to avoid bundling or tying products together. Metaphors involving wars, sports, winning, or losing are also discouraged.

The trial is expected to shed further light on Google’s internal practices and the allegations of antitrust violations. The outcome of the case could have significant implications for the future of competition in the online search industry.

Source: Bloomberg