As of today, the American government will try to tackle the monopoly position of a tech giant in court. The case revolves around the question of whether Google has illegally used its power in the search engine market to thwart competition.
Ten weeks have been set aside for the substantive handling of the case. The case is seen as a test; Can the government tackle large tech companies in this way?
The stakes are therefore enormous. For the American government, it is the first monopoly case in decades to be brought to court. For Google, the search engine and the revenue generated by it are the largest source of income. But Google has virtually unlimited resources to fight the legal battle. Hundreds of employees are reportedly working on the case and the company is spending millions on legal fees and lobbyists.
Although it may take months or years before clarity is obtained, the consequences could be enormous if the government wins.
Google is accused of entering into agreements to guarantee exclusive use of its search engine. Agreements that prevent alternative search engines from being pre-installed, or from Google’s search app being removed. For example, Google pays Apple billions of euros to be the default search engine in the Safari browser.
The US Department of Justice and eleven US states argue that Google ‘harms’ consumers with these constructions, because the quality of search results decreases and there is less choice and innovation. Google could therefore also ask more money from advertisers.
Obviously Google disagrees; it argues that there are more ways than ever to search, including TikTok, Reddit, Instagram, Spotify, Amazon and ChatGPT. It sees the search market as a battle between many online platforms with search capabilities.
Google also points to a statement by Apple CEO Tim Cook who called the search engine ‘the best’. Google also states that the agreements are not exclusive (Bing and Yahoo also pay Apple and Mozilla), that it is very easy to change search engines and that Microsoft promotes its own search engine in the Edge browser as well.
Years of struggle
The case has been in preparation for three years and could take years to come. First of all, there is a good chance that one of the parties will appeal. Given the weight of the case, it is also not inconceivable that proceedings will continue all the way to the US Supreme Court.
Apart from that, the question remains what Google should do if the government wins. Only when that happens will the judge consider that question.