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The technology industry prepares for the closure of the Google antitrust trial| GuyWhoKnowsThings


America's biggest challenge yet to the vast power of today's tech giants has reached its climax.

On Thursday and Friday, lawyers from the Justice Department, state attorneys general and Google will present their closing arguments in a year-long case. US et al. v. Google – about whether the tech giant violated federal antitrust laws to maintain its dominance of online search.

The government claims that Google competed unfairly when it paid Apple and other companies billions of dollars to automatically manage searches on smartphones and web browsers. Google insists that Consumers use their search engine. because it is the best product.

In the coming weeks or months, the judge who oversaw the trial in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Amit P. Mehta, will issue a ruling that could change the way Google does business or even break up the company, or acquit the tech giant entirely. Many antitrust experts expect it to fall somewhere in the middle, ruling out only some of Google's tactics.

The test is the biggest challenge yet to the vast power of today's technology giants, which have defined an era in which billions of people around the world depend on their products for information, social interaction and commerce. US regulators have also sued Apple, Amazon and Meta in recent years for monopolistic behavior, and the Google case is likely to set a legal precedent for the group.

“This will be the most important decision and the most important antitrust trial of the 21st century,” said Rebecca Haw Allensworth, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School who studies antitrust. “It is the first of the major monopolization cases against the main technology platforms to go to trial, which makes it a benchmark.”

The Justice Department declined to comment. A Google spokesperson pointed to an earlier statement by one of the company's executives that evidence from the trial confirmed that people “have many options when searching for information online and use Google because it is useful.”

At the center of the case is Google's dominance in online search, which generates billions in profits annually. The Justice Department says Google's search engine performs nearly 90 percent of web searches.

The company spent $26.3 billion in 2021 alone to become the default search engine in browsers like Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox, meaning it's automatically selected for users out of the box, according to information presented in the proof. Apple's share was about 18 billion dollars, The New York Times has reported.

When the Justice Department sued Google in 2020, it argued that those contracts were designed to defend its monopoly on the search business and harm the ability of other companies, such as Microsoft and DuckDuckGo, to compete.

Months after the federal lawsuit was filed, a group of state attorneys general filed their own antitrust case against Google over its search business and made similar allegations. Judge Mehta heard the cases together for 10 weeks last fall.

Lawyers questioned experts and executives, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Nadella said the rival's dominance turned the Internet into “Google's web” and that he feared a future in which Google would use similar tactics to dominate the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence.

“As excited as I am that there is a new angle to AI, I am very concerned that this vicious cycle I am trapped in could become even more vicious,” Mr. Nadella testified.

Google's Pichai later testified that the company had created a better experience for consumers on the web through products, such as the Chrome web browser, that used Google as a search engine.

Once closing arguments conclude, Judge Mehta must determine whether Google has monopoly power over the two products at issue in the case: general search engines and ads that appear in search results. To do this, he can analyze Google's overall market share and whether its power over search may be affected by competitors.

Then, if he finds that Google has monopoly power, Judge Mehta will decide whether the company broke the law by making deals to be the default search engine on smartphones and web browsers to defend its market share.

Legal experts say he could issue a mixed ruling, one that likely involves dismissing some of the government's allegations but ruling that some of the contracts and policies highlighted during the trial do constitute legal violations.

If the judge rules against Google in some way, he will ultimately also have to determine how to correct the illegal behavior, for example, potentially instructing the company to terminate its default search engine agreements with Apple and others. During this phase of the trial, both Google and the government could have the opportunity to present to Judge Mehta their arguments about how best to address any problems identified in the case.

The judge could also look to the European Union, where Google in 2019 offered smartphone users the ability to choose their default search engine in an attempt to comply with an earlier antitrust ruling by regulators against the company. While this theoretically gives smaller search companies a better chance of competing with Google, many rivals complain that it doesn't work.

While the government has not yet revealed what it may ask for if the judge rules in its favor, it could ask Judge Mehta to make structural changes to Google's business, for example by breaking up a division that helps the company capture search queries, like your Chrome. browser. That would be a more surprising option, experts said.

“I think it's unlikely that the Justice Department would seek any kind of breakup here,” said Bill Baer, ​​former head of the Justice Department's antitrust division. “It's more likely that there will be some kind of restrictions on Google's behavior in the future.”

In the late 1990s, the Justice Department raised a long-running antitrust challenge to Microsoft's dominance, saying it had used its power over operating systems to block some early Web browsers. The company finally resolved with the government, agreeing to give computer makers more options to introduce software that was not made by Microsoft. The legal standards established in that case were mentioned several times during the Google trial.

Now, Judge Mehta may also shape the tech industry and broader regulatory efforts to curb its tactics.

Baer said the ruling could help define what behavior is fair game for a company that operates a valuable and thriving platform and wants to defend its dominance. This would not only apply to the Google search engine. Apple's App Store, Amazon's marketplace, and Meta's numerous social networks are all platforms and face many of the same antitrust issues.

The facts are somewhat different,” Baer said. “But there is a lot in common in terms of: At what point does his behavior aimed at excluding his rivals constitute an illegal effort to maintain his monopoly position?”


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