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Google will present its chief witness, the CEO of the company, in a landmark antitrust trial 2024-04-20 12:35:55

Over the past six weeks, the Department of Justice and dozens of high-ranking state prosecutors have been trying to prove that Google unlawfully used its monopoly power to maintain its search engine at the top.

Now it's Google's turn to explain to the judge in this landmark trial why it believes the government is wrong.

The $1.7 trillion company is expected to argue that it dominates search because it has the best technology, and that's why people prefer it. On Monday, the CEO of Alphabet and Google, Sundar Pichai, will be called as the key witness.

Pichai has extensive experience in the field of Google's search systems. He is expected to testify that Google has been working on creating the best search product for consumers, and this has only helped competition.

The legal battle between Google and the government is the first major technology monopoly case to go to court in decades and the first of the modern Internet era. The last case of this magnitude to reach the courts was in 1998 against Microsoft. In that case, the judge ruled in favor of the government, stating that Microsoft had violated antitrust laws.

"Microsoft's case at the time was considered the case of the century," said John Quoka, an economics professor at Northeastern University specializing in antitrust law. "But that was in the last century, so we have a new one ahead of us: a new century, a new potential landmark case."

While antitrust law may seem mundane, the Google trial has had its share of intrigue. There have been allegations of document destruction and details of billion-dollar deals between the world's richest companies. The government has called about 30 witnesses, including experts, psychologists, and top executives from Apple and Microsoft, in an effort to prove that Google violated the law.

"Google has unlawfully maintained a monopoly for over a decade," said Kenneth Dintzer, a senior lawyer at the Department of Justice, in an opening statement on September 12. "If Google sets the rules, it will always be in their favor."

To understand how Google will defend itself against the government, it's necessary to know what the Department of Justice alleges.

The government bears the burden of proving that Google harmed competition. Its case is based on claims that Google unlawfully organized its business relationships to ensure that people see its search engine first when they turn on their phones or computers.

According to the Department of Justice, Google achieved this through exclusive agreements with device manufacturers, web browsers, and mobile carriers, such as Apple, Mozilla, and AT&T. The end result is that Google has become so pervasive that competitors allegedly cannot compete, and consumers are left with no choice but Google.

During the trial, the Department of Justice presented evidence that Google paid Apple at least $10 billion per year to ensure that it would be the default search engine on devices like the iPhone and iPad. Eddie Cue, Apple's senior vice president for services, stated that these deals were mutually beneficial for both companies.

The Department of Justice also called dozens of other witnesses, including Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, who testified that for many years, he unsuccessfully tried to get Apple to switch the default browser on its devices from Google to Microsoft's Bing. According to him, even a company as large as Microsoft cannot compete without the ability to do this.

"Everyone talks about an open network, but there is actually a Google network," Nadella said during his testimony. "The advantage of distribution that Google has today hasn't gone anywhere."

Leaders of other small search engines, such as DuckDuckGo and Neeva, also claimed that Google's exclusive deals effectively nullified their market potential.

While some information about Google's business relationships became known in court, much of it was presented behind closed doors. Cue testified for four hours, but more than half of it was closed to the public. Throughout the investigation, Google consistently fought to seal documents and halt proceedings in public court.

This became so common that The New York Times and other major news organizations filed a motion, pleading with the judge to ensure an open courtroom hearing.

Google and its chief witness are playing the game During the trial, Google dismissed claims that exclusive agreements with device manufacturers supported its business. Instead, the company argues that the quality of its products is the key. Search engines like Bing simply do not meet the requirements, said Google's lead lawyer, John Schmidtlein, in his opening statement.

"Microsoft couldn't invest, couldn't innovate in the same way Google does in many areas that have nothing to do with scale," Schmidtlein said.

Google began its defense last Thursday and is expected to continue promoting the same idea over the next three weeks. And few are more qualified to speak about its search products than CEO Sundar Pichai.

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