Google pays ‘enormous sums’ to block rival search engines on phones: DOJ

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The US Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google in 2020, but the case is still in preliminary hearings, and Thursday’s case was the largest yet. According to the government, Google is paying “enormous” sums to remain the default search engine on phones. This is one of the pillars of the DOJ’s case: it argues that it excludes competition because no one is changing the search engine’s default setting.

Government lawyer Kenneth Dintzer did not specify how much Google pays companies like Samsung and Apple to make its search engine the default, but told the court it was ” billion”. In 2020, The New York Times reported that Google was paying Apple up to $20 billion a year to remain the default on the iPhone. These contracts are key to the DOJ’s case against Google.

Google has always said the competition is just a click away, and indeed it’s relatively simple to change the default search engine provider on a phone. And anyway, Google says it’s maintained agreements with companies like Mozilla since the early 2000s, and it’s unclear why the contracts are only now becoming an antitrust issue.

If the DOJ does not accept this argument, Google has more. Company attorney John Schmidtlein told Judge Amit Mehta that his accusers misunderstand the search market. According to Google, the government is focusing too much on smaller search engine rivals like Bing and DuckDuckGo. In reality, Google says, it faces stiff competition from platforms like TikTok, Facebook and Amazon. These companies do not offer web search, but people still go there to search for things on the platforms instead of going through Google.

An executive of state attorneys general is pursuing a parallel case against Google in an effort led by Texas AG Ken Paxton. This case will also appear before Judge Mehta, but there is a layer of political calculation here. Paxton, who has been indicted for fraud since 2015, often raises the specter of “liberal Silicon Valley” when confronting Big Tech. However, that does not mean that he is wrong in this specific case. For example, recent filings in the case allege that Google intentionally hides the fact that it always tracks users in incognito mode.

Depending on the outcome of the case, Google could be forced to pay fines or sell assets. The government might even require the company to be broken up as it did with the Bell System in the early 80s.

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Rosemary S. Bishop