As Google faced off against the Department of Justice on the first day of a hotly anticipated antitrust trial, company lawyer John Schmidtlein laid out an interesting perspective. “This case is really all about Microsoft,” Schmidtlein said.
If you can name one search engine other than Google, it’s probably Bing, but Microsoft’s rival search tool is all but a joke compared to Google’s Search supremacy, with a wimpy 3% market share. According to the government, that’s because Google kneecaps its competitors by paying companies such as Apple as much as $US10 billion a year to make its Search tool the default on phones and browsers. But according to Schmidtlein, Microsoft’s lack of success has nothing to do with anticompetitive behaviour: it’s because Bing sucks and Google is better.
“Microsoft has failed to invest, failed to innovate,” and that would still be true whether or not Google was cutting Apple, Samsung, Mozilla, and other companies giant checks to make it the default choice, Schmidtlein said.
The trial marks the government’s first major antitrust battle against a tech company since the DOJ took on Microsoft in the late ‘90s. It’ll be a long time before we reach a verdict, but just on the first day we’ve already seen some surprising—and hilarious—revelations.
Scroll though the below for the best things that happened on day one of Google’s antitrust trial.
Google claims it has no idea how many people switch the default search tool on their phones and browsers.
A key part of Google’s argument is that it’s easy to change your default search engine, but of course, that requires knowing it’s possible and caring enough to make an effort.
Judge Amit P. Mehta asked Google’s Schmidtlein how many people change the built-in search engine on Firefox, in which Google pays to be the default option. Schmidtlein said “droves” of people switch, but said Google has no idea how many people make the change. Answer: we have no idea. At a company built on data analysis, that’s a tough sell.
Schmidtlein said there’s no reliable data on that question, and even if there was it wouldn’t be accurate because people can just switch back.
Google pays Apple $US10 billion a year not to make a search engine, the DOJ says.
Google pays Apple an exorbitant amount to make its search engine the default on iPhones and the Safari browser, but we never knew exactly how much. Thanks to the court system, we finally have an answer: $US10 billion a year.
According to the government, Google isn’t just paying to be the default, it’s also cutting checks to make it less likely that companies like Apple will make competing products. Why make your own search engine when Google’s lining your pockets?
Apple tried to give users choice, but Google said no.
The DOJ said Apple wanted to give users a choice screen that would let them pick between Google and Yahoo, but Google said no. “No default placement, no revenue share,” Google said in an email, according to Kenneth Dintzer, the lead attorney for the DOJ. “This is a monopolist flexing,” Dintzer said.
Google hid documents and conversations from the government, the DOJ says.
Dintze told the court that Google goes out of its way to hide conversations and keep documents out of the regulator’s hands. Dintzer cited a message where Google CEO Sundar Pichai asked to turn off chat history, and said Google cc’s lawyers on emails where they aren’t needed just to shield the contents under attorney-client privilege.
“They turned history off, your honor, so they could rewrite it here in this courtroom,” Dintzer told the judge.
You use Google because you love it, not because it’s a monopoly, according to Google.
Not surprisingly, Google says it’s not a monopoly. People use Google “because it delivers value to them, not because they have to,” Google’s Schmidtlein said. “Users today have more search options and ways to access information online than ever before.”
Google’s alleged monopoly behaviour started in 2010.
Judge Mehta asked the DOJ when exactly Google became a monopoly. Dintzer didn’t answer that question, but said Google started illegally working to preserve its monopoly in 2010.
Google said the government wants you to use bad products.
Google lawyer Schmidtlein told the court that the government is fighting a backwards lawsuit “all in the hopes that forcing people to use inferior products in the short run will somehow be good for competition in the long run.”
Employees talked about the value of making it harder to switch to Bing.
The DOJ called Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian as its first witness. During the examination, the DOJ cited emails in which Varian commented about how useful it would be to make it hard to switch to Bing. The DOJ even cited a memo where Varian said “We also have to be sensitive about antitrust concerns” surrounding this issue.
The DOJ said the future of the internet is at stake.
“This case is about the future of the internet and whether Google will ever face meaningful competition,” said DOJ lawyer Dintzer said in his opening statement.
Google hired the same lawyers who prosecuted Microsoft in the ‘90s.
Antitrust super fans will recognize at least one face at the trial: John Schmidtlein, Google’s lead attorney. Schmidtelein represented a number of states during the government’s antitrust case against Microsoft 20 years ago. Google also hired Mark Popofsky, who represented the DOJ in the Microsoft case, as an antitrust advisor. It’s what you might call a “power move.”
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