Google and the Justice Department are making final arguments over whether the search engine is a monopoly

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

Google, on the other hand, claims that its ubiquity stems from its excellence and its ability to deliver results that customers are looking for.

“It would be an unprecedented decision to punish a company for winning on the merits,” Google attorney John Schmidtlein said late Friday afternoon in summarizing the company’s closing arguments.

Justice Department attorney Ken Dintzer told the judge that “today must be the day” for him to intervene and put an end to Google’s monopolistic behavior, which he compared to the tactics used by Microsoft two decades ago and which sparked a similar antitrust battle.

The US government, a coalition of states and Google all delivered closing arguments on Friday in the 10-week trial of US 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. Justice Department lawyers have said the huge 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 can place ads to consumers in direct response to questions they ask.

“It’s only Google where we can see this directly stated intent,” Mehta said.

Schmiddlein responded that social media companies “have a 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. Today, it’s said that younger technology consumers sometimes think of Google as “Grandpa Google.”

Government lawyers also argued that the tech company should be sanctioned for the “systemic destruction of documents” that they allege was done to purposefully conceal evidence of monopolistic intentions and practices.

Trial evidence showed that Google lawyers recommended employees ensure their work chats were not saved due to the potential legal implications.

The government has asked Mehta to impose a sanction that would allow the judge to conclude that all deleted chats were unfavorable to Google in terms of their anti-competitive intentions.

Mehta said he was unsure whether he would grant the government’s request, but he was sharply critical of their document retention practices and speculated that there should be some sort of sanction.

“Google’s document retention policies leave a lot to be desired,” he said. “It’s shocking, or surprising, to me that a company would leave it up to its employees to decide when to retain documents.”

Google lawyer Colette Connor defended the company’s practice of generally not keeping internal company chats. “Given the typical use of chats, it was reasonable,” she said.

Although Google’s search services are free to consumers, the company generates search revenue by selling ads that appear on a user’s search results.

Justice Department attorney David Dahlquist said during oral arguments Friday that Google was able to increase its ad revenue by growing the number of searches submitted until about 2015, when search growth slowed and they needed to make more money on each search. .

The government argues that Google’s search engine monopoly allows Google to artificially charge higher prices to advertisers, which are ultimately passed on to consumers.

“Price increases must be limited by competition,” Dahlquist said. “It should be the market that determines what the price increases are.”

Dahlquist said internal Google documents show that the company, unencumbered by any real competition, began tweaking its advertising algorithms to sometimes serve users worse search ad results if doing so would increase revenue.

Google attorney Schmiddlein said the record shows that its search ads have become more effective and useful to consumers over time, from a 10% click rate to 30%.

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.

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