This week marks a historic event in the tech world – the beginning of Google’s trial on federal antitrust charges. The Justice Department accused the tech giant of operating a monopoly in online search and using its monopoly power to limit competition, stifle innovation, and violate user privacy. Google denies the charges, claiming fierce competition in the online market and a relentless drive to innovate. It’s been two decades since Google’s dominance in the sector began – but now, the internet’s largest search engine will stand before Judge Amit Mehta in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to answer the government’s charges.
Google’s chief legal officer, Kent Walker, insists that the search engine is constantly changing. “We obviously think there is a lot of competition in this space,” Walker told Axios. “We’re constantly changing search.” However, legal experts don’t view an order to “break up” Google as a likely outcome and a decision against it could have serious economic impacts for suppliers such as Mozilla, Apple and other companies that receive payments from Google to make its search engine the default choice.
While this case marks the third time the DOJ’s antitrust enforcers have taken on a tech monopoly (IBM 1969-1982; Microsoft 1998-2002), this particular trial’s success or failure may hinge on the Judge’s decisions more than a potential break-up. Mehta, an Obama appointee who has served nine years on the District Court bench, hasn’t spent much time on technology policy or antitrust, making it difficult to predict how he may handle the case. Although, the most relevant case was when he blocked a $3.5 billion Sysco deal for US Foods in 2015 on antitrust grounds.
The case, expected to take approximately four months, will focus on agreements between Google and its aforementioned partners – their accusation being that the pre-installed Google search is illegally restricting competition. Google, on the other hand, argues that users prefer its services on merit, not due to monopolistic practices. Judge Mehta himself weighed in on the matter, noting that “a dominant firm like Google does not violate the law, however, merely because it occupies a monopoly market position. It must act in a manner that produces anticompetitive effects in the defined markets. That is, a company with monopoly power acts unlawfully only when its conduct stifles competition.”
Google President of Global Affairs Kent Walker shared his views on the matter, “This is a backwards-looking case at a time of unprecedented innovation, including breakthroughs in AI, new apps and new services, all of which are creating more competition and more options for people than ever before. People don’t use Google because they have to — they use it because they want to. It’s easy to switch your default search engine — we’re long past the era of dial-up internet and CD-ROMs.”
This trial will not only determine the fate of Google’s search business, but will also be a bellwether for the Biden administration’s more assertive antitrust agenda. All eyes are on this week’s event, with implications for the tech industry as a whole. We’ll be closely monitoring the proceedings and reporting with updates as they come.
Source: Washington Examiner