The Google antitrust trial is arguably the most important case of its kind in decades, and the outcome can have serious implications for how we interact with the internet. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has made allegations against Google for abusing its power within the search and advertising markets to stamp out competition. These allegations have been denied by Google, which is arguing that its current operation is a positive force for customers and that it does face competition from other giants. Throughout this article, we take a deep dive into the Google antitrust trial.
On September 12th, 2023, the Google antitrust trial started in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. The DOJ and an 11-state coalition are accusing Google of abusing its dominance within the search and advertising markets. The anti-competitive practices Google has allegedly engaged in include:
- Manipulating its search results to favor its products and services.
- Paying billions of dollars to manufacturers to make Google the default search engine on devices.
- Acquiring competing companies and shutting them down.
- Entering into exclusive agreements with websites to prevent them from using Google’s competitors.
The outcome of the antitrust trial, which could last for several months, will likely have a serious influence over how we use the internet. If the DOJ wins, it would alter the way Google operates. For example, Google may be forced to separate its advertising and search business or alter the website ranking algorithm to be fairer.
A loss in the Google antitrust trial won’t only have implications for Google’s operations, it will cause a ripple effect that will be felt everywhere. Here are just some of the potential impacts:
- More choices for consumers. If Google changes the way it works, consumers will have more choices and may use alternative search engines.
- Lower prices for advertisers. Without Google holding a monopoly on advertising, businesses will have access to cheaper ads from other providers.
- Greater tech innovation. More competition would lead to an increase in innovation, which could lead to better quality products and services.
- A shift in data collection methods. If Google is forced to become more transparent, users will have much more control over their personal data.
- Alterations to content moderation. Google moderates a lot of content. If this changes, there may be less or more content moderation.
While these are just some potential impacts on the internet if Google loses the antitrust trial, the exact outcomes are still unknown because we’re still months away from a conclusion.
The Google antitrust trial isn’t the first of its kind but arguably the most important. There have been many high-profile antitrust cases over the years, even dating back to the 1990s.
In 1998, the US government alleged that Microsoft was abusing its power within the operating system market. In particular, Microsoft was accused of bundling Internet Explorer with the Windows Operating system, which made it difficult for other web browsers to get a look in. As well as this, they were accused of applying pressure on other companies to use its services and products.
This particular case spanned five years and resulted in changing practices at Microsoft. For example, they were no longer allowed to bundle Internet Explorer and Windows, they had to let companies uninstall Internet Explorer, and Microsoft was required to license Windows to other companies.
The ongoing antitrust trial isn’t Google’s first rodeo. It was fined €2.4 billion in 2017 by the European Union for abusing its dominance within the search engine market. The investigation found that Google had been giving its own comparison service higher search rankings, paying other companies to default to Google Chrome, and preventing competitors from accessing necessary data.
Despite Google disputing the claims, its appeal was lost in 2019 and it became the first tech giant to be found guilty of abusing its powers in the EU. The case was a significant turning point that showed other companies that the EU is fearless in taking action on corruption within the tech industry.
If Google loses the ongoing trial as well, it will lead to new regulations within the US, which will make the tech industry a more equal landscape.
In 2020, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed an antitrust case against Facebook. They claimed that Facebook had abused its dominance within the social media market to oppress competition. The allegations include acquiring competitors (Instagram and WhatsApp), and then shutting them down or integrating them with the platform.
Facebook has denied all allegations and is still in the middle of its trial, so it’s impossible to know what the outcomes will be. However, a loss in the trial may force them to operate Instagram and WhatsApp as two separate companies.
Established experts on antitrust law and the wider tech industry are divided about the potential outcome. Some believe that Google will be found guilty because the DOJ has a strong case and Google already lost a similar case within the EU. On the other hand, some experts believe Google will be acquitted because they have a solid defense.
William Kovacic, who is a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, believes that the Google antitrust case will be a “beat by beat” of the signature case against Microsoft in 1998. Additionally, he alludes to believing the case is contradictory because the outcomes of the Microsoft case led to the rise and dominance of Google and other tech companies.
Tim Wu, a professor of Law at Columbia University and the author of a New York Times Article titled “The Google Trial is Going to Rewrite Our Future”, believes that the Government has a solid case against Google. However, he also notes that Google’s defense is strong, which makes it difficult to make judgments on the case either way.
The Google antitrust trial is a complicated and important case that may have a significant impact on the tech industry, regardless of which side the verdict agrees with. While the outcomes are unclear at this time, there’s no denying that consumers, businesses, and regulators worldwide are watching with a close eye.