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Google Employees Ignore Antitrust Threat as Trial Comes to a Head| GuyWhoKnowsThings

On Tuesday, Google employees gathered for a general meeting called TGIF. These company-wide meetings rarely take place on Fridays these days, but the name has stuck.

Executives shared highlights from a recent earnings report and a cloud computing conference, and warned workers against taking disruptive actions in the wake of internal protests against a cloud computing contract with Israel.

But no one at the meeting, two employees said, broached a topic that could have a dramatic impact on Google: its landmark antitrust trial with the Justice Department, where discussions will finally come to an end this week.

For eight months, while tech policy experts have tried to guess what a Google victory or defeat would mean for the power of the tech giants in the United States, Google employees have largely ignored the antitrust fight, according to interviews with a dozen current and recent workers. , who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the legal matter.

Even among Google's most outspoken employees, the legal risks facing the company have become background noise. For two decades, the company has been one of Silicon Valley's top predators, and its workers have become accustomed to Google's rapid regulatory scrutiny. Why expect something different this time?

Furthermore, they added, the The most pressing threat to Google is competitive. raised by Microsoft and OpenAI, the creator of the ChatGPT chatbot. (The New York Times defendant OpenAI and Microsoft in December for copyright infringement of news content related to AI systems).

Closing arguments in the trial began Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and are expected to last two days. The Justice Department has taken aim at Google's search business, alleging that the company illegally expanded its monopoly by forging default search deals with browser makers such as Apple and Mozilla. Google has said the contracts are legal and that its innovations have expanded competition, not restricted it.

Peter Schottenfels, a Google spokesman, said in a statement that the Justice Department's case “is deeply flawed.”

“Our employees know that we face intense competition; we experience it every day,” Schottenfels said. “That's why we focus on creating innovative and useful products that people choose to use.”

On Thursday, Judge Amit P. Mehta tested the arguments of the Department of Justice and Google In the court. He goaded the Justice Department over his claim that Google's market power had hindered the innovation or quality of its search engine for consumers.

“I'm struggling to see how I could come to factual conclusions that say, 'Google hasn't done enough' or 'Google's product has gotten worse over the course of 10 years,' in such a way that I could say it's because of lack of of jurisdiction,” Judge Mehta said.

He also disputed Google's claim that it faces competition from sites like Amazon, where consumers search for prices and other results while shopping, saying the average person would see a difference between Google and Amazon.

It will soon be up to Justice Mehta to decide. If Google loses, there are a wide range of possible consequences. Google could be forced to make small changes to its business practices or face a ban on the types of default contracts that have helped make its search engine ubiquitous. The Justice Department could also call for the sale of one of Google's search delivery platforms, such as the Chrome browser or the Android mobile operating system, a drastic but less likely outcome.

For more than a decade, Google has faced government fines and lawsuits in Europe and elsewhere, while making significant profits. income and profit gains. That has made all legal dispute It seems like the cost of doing business for some employees, two people said.

Google employees have been taught to avoid talking or writing about lawsuits. The company always tells employees to “communicate carefully,” as stated in an internal document reviewed by The Times. In other words, what you write can end up becoming embarrassing evidence in court.

When an employee in Google's advertising department recently mentioned news articles about the antitrust lawsuit in the office, his coworkers shook their heads and said, “We don't talk about that,” the person said.

But trials happen all the time. Over the past six months, Google has resolved cases at a steady pace, putting an end to privacy, patent and antitrust claims against the company. Those lawsuits didn't lead to much change, leading some employees to believe this case is no different.

When employees talk about the Justice Department lawsuit, they echo one of the company's arguments: that the allegations against Google Search are outdated, especially as the tech industry has rushed to develop artificial intelligence systems that could disrupt the search market, two people said.

Some employees hope that all the legal fuss around the search case will boil down to small business adjustments and some fines, two people said.

Despite employee confidence, William Kovacic, former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, said in an interview that companies targeted by antitrust violations often lost a step, citing IBM and Microsoft. He hopes Google will have a similar experience, he said.

The lawsuits may “inject a little more caution into the way the company operates,” said Kovacic, who now teaches competition at George Washington University. “To some extent, I feel like they've already lost. They will never be the same again.”

Google executives hoped employees would ignore the Justice Department's lawsuit. When it was introduced in the fall of 2020, Sundar Pichai, the company's CEO, told the employees Stay focused on your jobs and don't let it distract you.

Kent Walker, the company's chief legal officer, said it had assigned several hundred employees to work on Google's defense, and that the litigation was led by three outside law firms and dozens of in-house lawyers.

In the years since, Pichai has not mentioned the lawsuit and has downplayed it when addressing employees at general meetings, three people said. And the company has reiterated the need to remain silent and has sent emails to employees instructing them not to discuss the case publicly or to the press, two people said.

Lately, other issues have captured more workers' attention. On Memegen, a forum that serves as Google's virtual water cooler, one person said, commenters have continued to discuss topics such as ongoing layoffs, moving jobs to India and protests against the Israeli cloud deal, known like Project Nimbus, which led Google to dismiss 50 participants for disturbing and occupying work spaces.

On Tuesday, Pichai said it was okay for employees to disagree on sensitive issues, but they couldn't cross the line.

“We are a business,” he said.

David McCabe and Cecilia Kang contributed reporting from Washington.

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