TechnologyGoogle's search engine is at the center of the largest US antitrust...

Google’s search engine is at the center of the largest US antitrust trial in decades

The United States government is pointing in the direction of what has been an indomitable empire: the ubiquitous Google search engine, which has become the main gateway to the Internet.

The legal attack will come into full force Tuesday in a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C., which will serve as the battleground for the largest antitrust trial in the United States since regulators went after Microsoft and its dominance in computer software. personal a quarter of a century ago.

The 10-week trial before District Judge Amit Mehta is expected to include potentially revealing testimony from top executives at Google and its corporate parent Alphabet, as well as other powerful technology companies. Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai — who succeeded Google co-founder Larry Page in 2019 — will be among the most prominent witnesses likely to testify. Court documents also indicate that Eddy Cue, one of Apple’s most senior executives, could be called to the stand.

The case against Google is similar to the one brought against Microsoft in many ways, including the existential threat it poses to a renowned technology giant whose products are trusted by billions of people.

The trial is scheduled to continue until the end of November before its first phase concludes, after which it is believed there will be another round of filing and court arguments. Mehta is not expected to issue a ruling until next year. If he decides that Google has been breaking the law, that will be grounds for another lawsuit to determine what steps should be taken to restrain the Mountain View, California company.

Although Google products—such as the Chrome web browser, Gmail, YouTube, and online maps—are enormously popular, none have become as indispensable—or as valuable—as the Internet search engine invented by Page and Sergey Brin. a fellow graduate student at Stanford University in the late 1990s.

The trial begins just a couple of weeks after the 25th anniversary of the company’s first investment — a $100,000 check written by Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems — that allowed Page and Brin to set up shop in a Silicon Valley garage.

Today, Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., is worth $1.7 trillion and employs 182,000 people, with most of its money coming from $224 billion in annual advertising sales that flow through a network of digital services anchored in a search engine that answers billions of queries a day.

Google could end up undermined if the antitrust trial results in forcing it to make concessions that undermine its power. One possibility is that the company will be forced to stop paying Apple and other companies to make Google the default search engine on smartphones and computers.

Or the legal battle could cause Google to lose focus on what matters most to it. That’s what happened to Microsoft after its antitrust standoff with the Justice Department: Distracted, the software giant struggled to adapt to the impact of Internet search and smartphones. Google took advantage of that distraction to leap from its startup roots to become a towering power.

Nearly three years after filing their antitrust lawsuit during President Donald Trump’s administration, U.S. Justice Department lawyers will try to show that Google has been abusing the power of its search engine to stifle competition in ways that discouraged competition. innovation. Critics say the quality of search results has also deteriorated as Google used its engine to sell ads and promote its own products, such as Google reviews of restaurants instead of those offered by Yelp.

Dozens of state attorneys general, led by Colorado, have joined the battle and will have a chance to show that Google has become an illegal monopoly that harms consumers.

The crux of the Justice Department’s argument will come down to its claim that Google’s search engine has become like the digital air that nearly everyone breathes, and that it needs to be cleaned because the company’s tactics have polluted the atmosphere. .

Google’s vast legal team is expected to argue that the company has never stopped improving its search engine, carrying out its original mission of organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. From Google’s perspective, continuous improvements explain why most people gravitate almost reflexively toward its search engine, a habit that long ago made “Googling” synonymous with searching for something.

Despite dominating about 90% of the Internet search market, Google maintains that it faces a wide range of competition, ranging from other search engines such as Bing and Microsoft’s DuckDuckGo to websites such as Amazon and Yelp, where People research what product to buy or where to eat.

The Justice Department maintains that Google’s claim that it dominates the market by offering the best search engine is a lie. It alleges that Google protects its franchise through a form of bribery, shelling out billions of dollars annually to be the default search engine on the iPhone and in web browsers such as Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox.

Regulators also contend that Google has illegally manipulated the market in its favor by requiring its search engine to be included with its Android smartphone software if device makers want full access to the Android app store.

By interlocking Google’s search engine as the default option in so many places, the Justice Department says the company has made it harder for people to find the best results as quickly as possible.

Regulators allege that the company’s agreements ensure Google’s automatic access to billions of queries that provide data for its search engine, while preventing Bing and DuckDuckGo from obtaining information that could help them improve their results.

The tactics have created a toxic situation that has allowed Google to place more ads at the top of its search results, boosting its profits and Alphabet’s stock price, according to the Justice Department. That practice requires consumers to dig deeper and deeper to answer their questions or find what they’re looking for, something regulators believe could be avoided if rival services could collect as much information as Google does through its monopolistic agreements.

Google insists that consumers could easily change their default settings to another search engine.

The company also argues that it does face competition from evolving technologies: Microsoft, for example, is integrating artificial intelligence from its business partner Open AI into Bing, its search engine. That February move prompted Google to also begin equipping its search engine with results powered by artificial intelligence, a sign the company says shows that competition continues to thrive.

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