Google faces federal monopoly charges in first U.S. antitrust trial in decades

1 of 3 | The federal case against Google is the first major antitrust matter to go to trial in more than two decades, with the global tech giant charged with using its indomitable size and reach to limit competition to its popular search engine. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 12 (UPI) — Google will go on trial Tuesday three years after the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit accusing the company of wielding a monopoly over digital advertising.

The federal case is the first major antitrust matter to go to trial in more than two decades, with the global tech giant charged with using its indomitable size and reach to limit competition to its popular search engine.

The bench trial in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., is expected to last about three months, and will be heard by Judge Amit Mehta, who will issue a final ruling without a jury.

Google faces massive fines and potential restructuring that could change many of the familiar features of the search engine.

The government claims Google attempted to crush its smaller rivals by signing exclusive agreements with other tech giants — like Apple, Samsung, Mozilla, and Firefox — to make its search engine the first to pop up on devices when users search the Internet.

The lawsuit also alleges the Internet titan gobbled up many of its digital advertising competitors, and then forced publishers and advertisers to use Google products, while also working to discredit any competing products that remained on the market, like DuckDuckGo.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai was expected to testify, as well as other big tech executives, including Apple senior vice president of Services Eddie Cue.

The outcome of the trial holds deep implications for the future of the Internet and is likely to change how tech companies can conduct business deals that ultimately impact a wide swath of the population that had grown increasingly dependent on the Internet.

The case was filed in October 2020 during the final months of the Trump administration, with then-Attorney General William Barr alleging Google had enriched itself through deals that made its search engine the default browser on millions of mobile devices and other platforms.

“This lawsuit strikes at the heart of Google’s grip over the Internet for millions of American consumers, advertisers, small businesses and entrepreneurs beholden to an unlawful monopolist,” Barr said at the time.

The case is being joined by more than a dozen attorneys general and a group of 35 states who filed separate antitrust cases earlier this year, alleging in court papers that Google had “used anticompetitive, exclusionary and unlawful means to eliminate or severely diminish any threat to its dominance over digital advertising technologies.”

Federal prosecutors were expected to argue that Google had sought to knock out any challenges to its ubiquitous footprint and maintain its position as the world’s leading search engine with billions of daily users.

“Two decades ago, Google became the darling of Silicon Valley as a scrappy start-up with an innovative way to search the emerging Internet,” the Justice Department wrote in its initial complaint. “That Google is long gone.”

Google, a multinational corporate behemoth worth $1.7 trillion, commands about 90% of the search engine market in the United States.

Google executives continue to defend the company’s dominance, maintaining its browser is consistently superior to those offered by competitors, while suggesting that consumers are making a choice to use Google over browsers that are outdated and cumbersome to use.

“People don’t use Google because they have to — they use it because they want to,” Kent Walker, one of Google’s top lawyers and its president of global affairs, said in a statement. “It’s easy to switch your default search engine — we’re long past the era of dial-up Internet and CD-ROMs.”

The last time an antitrust case went to trial was in 1998, when Microsoft was found guilty of violating competition laws by bundling its various products to bully consumers into buying its entire software package.

“That case was about a monopolist tech platform and the government won,” said Vanderbilt Law School professor Rebecca Haw Allensworth. “And so, everybody has viewed that as a kind of blueprint for how we might enforce the laws against the current tech giants.”

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