The U.S. Justice Department’s epic trial against Google began Tuesday with prosecutors alleging that the tech giant pays “more than $10 billion a year” to companies like Apple to protect the dominance of its ubiquitous search engine.
In addition to major smartphone manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung, the DOJ accused Google of paying horrendous sums to mobile providers such as AT&T and browser manufacturers such as Mozilla in order to maintain its 91% share of the search engine market.
In what is arguably the most important antitrust monopoly trial of the modern Internet era – a fight expected to drag on for 10 weeks – DOJ lead attorney Kenneth Dintzer called the annual payments a “feedback loop” that unfairly helped Google drive competitors out of the market to clear away.
“This wheel has been turning for more than 12 years,” Dintzer said during opening arguments in federal court in Washington, D.C. “And it always benefits Google.”
“This case is about the future of the Internet and whether Google’s search engine will ever face serious competition,” he added in his opening arguments before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta.
Dintzer addressed the alleged relationship between Google and Apple in his opening statements, calling the agreements an “Achilles heel” for rival search engines from Yahoo and MSN and suggesting that Google refuses to share sales data with Apple without “standard placement” devices.
“Your honor, this is a monopoly,” he said. according to the New York Timesnoting that Google’s internal chat system automatically deletes messages after 24 hours.
“They eliminated history, your honor, so they could rewrite it here in this courtroom,” Dintzer said.
In response, John Schmidtlein, a partner at Williams & Connolly, argued Tuesday that the DOJ had painted an inaccurate picture of the company.
“Users today have more search options and more ways to access information online than ever before,” he said, according to The Times.
He also shared that Apple users can change the default search engine on their devices with just “a few simple clicks.”
And if they don’t know how to do it, they can watch an instructional video on YouTube, owned by Google, Schmidtlein told Mehta, the former district judge appointed by President Barack Obama who was randomly selected to hear the case lead.
Mehta alone will decide whether Google illegally protected its ubiquitous search engine from competitors, as the DOJ alleges.
There will be no jury.
Ahead of the trial, Google had argued that it was making deals with phone makers like Apple – which Google reportedly collected up to $15 billion in payments annually – were not exclusive as consumers were free to change the default settings of their devices.
Despite commanding at least 90% of the Internet search market, Kent Walker, president of global affairs at Google, told The Post last week: “People don’t use Google because they have to – they use it because they want to.” It’s easy to change your default search engine – the era of dial-up Internet and CD-ROMs is long gone. Our success is hard-won and the result of our focus on developing services that help Americans every day. We look forward to arguing our case in court.”
In a blog post Sharing earlier this month, titled “People use Google because it’s helpful,” Walker reiterated that the DOJ’s arguments were “deeply flawed,” citing Mehta’s qualifications to the case earlier this month when he filed the lawsuit in dismissed four counts after finding that prosecutors had failed to show that the company had harmed competitors like Yelp and Expedia with its online search practices.
Google declined to comment on the case beyond Walker’s blog post.
Walker was reportedly present in court on Tuesday.
Many of Walker’s arguments were taken up in Schmidtlein’s opening statements.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai and top executives from numerous technology companies are expected to be called as witnesses in the next ten weeks.
Court documents indicate that Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services, who reports directly to CEO TIm Cook, will take the stand.
Even before the trial began, legal teams on both sides moved aggressively to advance their claims.
Together, the DOJ and Google have already fired more than 150 people in the case and produced more than 5 million pages of documents in preparation for the epic trial.
Google also argued in a recent lawsuit that the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Jonathan Kanter, harbors a “deep bias” against the company because of his past work for Google competitors such as Microsoft, Yelp and parent company News of the New York Post Corp .
If Mehta decides that Google has violated the law, there will be a separate trial determining the next steps the Mountain View, California-based company must take.
The Justice Department has ordered Google to change its allegedly unlawful business practices, potentially pay damages and restructure its operations.
Justice Department officials did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment.
Early Tuesday afternoon, shares of Google parent Alphabet fell nearly 1% to $135.84.
With a value of $1.72 trillion, Google is the fourth largest company in the world by market capitalization.