US Confronts Google In 21st Century’s Largest Tech Monopoly Trial
The U.S. government is initiating a major trial against Google, one of the world’s most influential corporations. This court battle, commencing on Tuesday, sees the U.S. Justice Department alleging that Google, operating as a monopoly, abused its power to dominate the search engine industry. It is the government’s first significant monopoly case in decades and the first in the age of the modern internet.
The Justice Department’s argument is centered on Google’s alleged illegal orchestration of its business operations to ensure it appears as the primary search engine on phones and web browsers, with the aim of eliminating competition.
“This lawsuit challenges Google’s stranglehold over the internet, affecting millions of American consumers, advertisers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs under the control of an unlawful monopoly,” stated former Attorney General William Barr when the case was filed in October 2020.
The case has far-reaching implications, addressing how tech companies accumulate power and control products used daily. Its outcome may reshape the way tech giants conduct business and influence the operation of the internet.
Valued at $1.7 trillion, Google commands approximately 90% of the U.S. search engine market. To defend its position, Google has assembled an extensive legal team and enlisted external law firms.
Google contends that its search product’s superiority is the reason for its dominance in the industry, asserting that individuals can easily switch to another search engine if they choose not to use Google.
“People don’t use Google because they have to — they use it because they want to,” remarked Kent Walker, one of Google’s top lawyers and president of global affairs.
The case draws parallels with the Microsoft case of 1998, in which the government sued Microsoft over claims of antitrust violations related to bundling products and stifling competition. The judge ruled in favor of the Justice Department in that case, finding Microsoft guilty of antitrust violations.
The Justice Department’s case against Google bears striking similarities, as its lawyers seek a similar outcome.
Rebecca Haw Allensworth, a professor specializing in antitrust law at Vanderbilt Law School, observes, “That case was about a monopolist tech platform, and the government won. And so, everybody has viewed that as a kind of blueprint for how we might enforce the laws against the current tech giants.”
The current trial serves as a test of whether this blueprint will prove effective.
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The case against Google focuses on the company’s multi-billion-dollar payments to secure exclusive agreements with phone manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung, as well as web browsers like Mozilla (Firefox). These agreements designate Google as the default search engine on most devices, a position that the Justice Department alleges has hindered smaller competitors.
One such competitor is DuckDuckGo, which emphasizes user privacy and non-tracking in its search services, unlike Google, known for extensive user tracking for targeted advertising. Kamyl Bazbaz, DuckDuckGo’s vice president of public affairs, welcomes the trial, stating, “Google has used its monopoly power to block meaningful competition in the search market by putting a stranglehold on major distribution points for more than a decade. So even though DuckDuckGo provides something extremely valuable that people want and Google won’t provide — real privacy — Google makes it unduly difficult to use DuckDuckGo by default.”