Google has offered a glimpse into its strategy to combat the U.S. government’s accusations of illegal monopolization as it prepares to face trial in the District of Columbia District Court next week. This legal battle marks the first major tech antimonopoly case in the United States in decades, reminiscent of the Department of Justice’s successful antitrust prosecution against Microsoft more than two decades ago.
In this case, the Department of Justice, along with a coalition of state attorneys general, contends that Google utilized exclusionary contracts with browser manufacturers such as Apple and phone makers using its Android operating system to stifle competition by preventing rivals from accessing the general search market. The states further assert that Google deliberately avoided making its search advertising tool compatible with Microsoft’s Bing, allegedly to restrict advertising spending to its own services.
Google vehemently contests the government’s allegations, deeming the case “deeply flawed.” Here are the central elements of Google’s defense, articulated by Kent Walker, the company’s president of global affairs, in a blog post on Friday:
- Competition in the Search Market: Google asserts that its distribution agreements have not stifled competition in the search market. It points to a diverse array of services that provide search tools, including platforms like TikTok, Reddit, Instagram, and Amazon. This grouping extends beyond direct competitors like Microsoft’s Bing and DuckDuckGo, which the government regards as part of the relevant market.
- Choice of Default Search Engines: Google contends that it is the browser and device manufacturers who make the choice to feature default search engines. They select Google due to the perceived quality of its products. Google cites Apple CEO Tim Cook’s 2018 endorsement of Google’s search engine as the “best.”
- Payment for Prominence: Google emphasizes that it is not alone in paying for prominent placement on browsers. Bing and Yahoo also make payments to secure features in Apple’s Safari browser.
- Consumer Choice: Google asserts that consumers have the freedom to easily change their default search engines on their devices if they prefer another service. Google claims that it requires as few as two clicks to change the default on Safari’s desktop version and only a slightly more involved process on mobile devices. Google points to the example of 2014 when many Mozilla users switched their default search engine from Yahoo to Google.
- Interoperability Challenges: Google argues that making its search ad tool as interoperable as the states demand would necessitate prioritizing the needs of Microsoft over those of its own customers. Google maintains that U.S. law does not mandate prioritizing competitors’ preferences over those of clients. Furthermore, Google highlights that Microsoft, with ample resources at its disposal, has opted not to create its own search engine management tool.
As the legal proceedings unfold, it remains to be seen how these arguments will fare in the courtroom, where Google’s defense will be rigorously tested in the face of allegations of monopolistic practices.