Google, Justice Department make final arguments about whether search engine is a monopoly

WASHINGTON — Google’s preeminence as an Internet search engine is an illegal monopoly supported by more than $20 billion the tech giant spends annually to foreclose competition, Justice Department lawyers argued at the conclusion of a high-stakes antitrust case.

Google, on the other hand, claims that its ubiquity stems from its excellence and its ability to provide consumers with the results it is looking for.

The government and Google delivered their closing arguments Friday in the 10-week trial of U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who must now decide whether Google broke the law by maintaining a monopoly status as a search engine.

Much of the case, the largest antitrust case in more than two decades, revolved around the extent to which Google derives its power from contracts it entered into with companies like Apple to make Google the default search engine pre-installed on mobile phones and computers. installed.

Evidence during the trial showed that Google spends more than $20 billion a year on such contracts. Attorneys for the Justice Department have said the enormous amount is indicative of how important it is for Google to make itself the default search engine and prevent competitors from gaining a foothold.

Google responds that customers can easily click away to other search engines if they want, but that consumers invariably prefer Google. Companies like Apple testified during the trial that they work with Google because they consider the search engine superior.

Google also states that the government defines the search engine market too narrowly. Although it has a dominant position over other general search engines such as Bing and Yahoo, Google says it faces much stiffer competition when consumers conduct targeted searches. For example, the tech giant says shoppers are more likely to search for products on Amazon than Google, vacation planners may conduct their searches on AirBnB, and hungry guests are more likely to search for a restaurant on Yelp.

And Google has said that social media companies like Facebook and TikTok also offer stiff competition.

During Friday’s arguments, Mehta questioned whether some of those other companies are really in the same market. He said social media companies can generate advertising revenue by presenting ads that appear to match consumers’ interests. But he said Google has the ability to place ads to consumers in direct response to questions they ask.

β€œIt’s only Google where we can see this directly stated intent,” Mehta said.

Google attorney John Schmidtlein responded that social media companies have β€œa lot of information about your interests that I would say is just as powerful.”

The company has also argued that its market power is weak because the Internet is constantly reshaping itself. Earlier in the process, it noted that many experts once thought it irrefutable that Yahoo would always be dominant in search results. Nowadays, it’s said that younger technology consumers sometimes think of Google as “Grandpa Google.”

Mehta has not yet said when he will rule, although it is expected that this could take several months.

If he finds that Google has broken the law, he would schedule a “remedies” phase of the process to determine what needs to be done to increase competition in the search engine market. The government has not yet said what solution it will seek.