Google and Justice Department present final arguments on whether the search engine is a monopoly

WASHINGTON (AP) — Google’s preeminence as an Internet search engine is an illegal monopoly sustained by more than $20 billion spent each year by the tech giant to block competition, Justice Department lawyers argued at the closing of a hearing. High-stakes antitrust lawsuit.

Google, on the other hand, maintains that its Ubiquity flows from its excellence.and its ability to deliver the results clients are looking for.

“It would be an unprecedented decision to punish a company for winning on its own merits,” Google lawyer John Schmidtlein said Friday afternoon in summarizing the company’s closing arguments.

Justice Department attorney Ken Dintzer told the judge that “today must be the day” to intervene and stop Google’s monopolistic behavior, which he compared to tactics used by Microsoft two decades ago that led to a similar antitrust battle.

The U.S. government, a coalition of states and Google made their closing arguments Friday in the 10-week lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who must now decide whether Google violated the law by maintaining monopoly status as a search engine. .

Much of the case the largest antitrust trial in more than two decadeshas revolved around the extent to which Google derives its strength from the contracts it has with companies like Apple to make Google the default search engine preloaded on mobile phones and computers.

At trial, evidence showed that Google spends more than $20 billion a year on these types of contracts. Justice Department lawyers have said the huge sum is indicative of how important it is for Google to become the default search engine and prevent its competitors from gaining a foothold.

Google responds that customers could easily click on other search engines if they wanted, but that consumers invariably prefer Google. Companies like Apple testified at trial that they partner with Google because they believe its search engine is superior.

Google also argues that the government defines the search engine market too narrowly. While it maintains a dominant position over other general search engines such as Bing and Yahoo, Google says it faces much more intense competition when consumers perform specific searches. For example, the tech giant says shoppers are more likely to search for products on Amazon than Google, vacation planners may conduct their searches on AirBnB, and hungry diners are more likely to search for a restaurant on Yelp.

And Google has said that social media companies like Facebook and TikTok also present fierce competition.

During arguments Friday, Mehta questioned whether any of those other companies are actually in the same market. He said social media companies can generate advertising revenue by trying to present ads that appear to match consumer interests. But he said Google can place ads in front of consumers in direct response to queries they submit.

“Only on Google can we see that intent directly stated,” Mehta said.

Schmidtlein responded that social media companies “have a ton of information about your interests that I would say is just as powerful.”

The company has also argued that its strength in the market is weak as the Internet is continually renewed. Previously in trial, noted that many experts once considered it irrefutable that Yahoo would always be dominant in search. Today, he said younger tech consumers sometimes think of Google as “Grandpa Google.”

Government lawyers also argued that the technology company should be sanctioned for the “systemic destruction of documents” that they say was carried out to intentionally conceal evidence of monopolistic intentions and practices.

Evidence at trial showed that Google lawyers advised employees to ensure their work chats were not saved because of their potential legal implications.

The government asked Mehta to impose a penalty that would allow the judge to infer that all the deleted chats were unfavorable to Google because of their anticompetitive intent.

Mehta said he was not sure whether he would accept the government’s request, but he sharply criticized its document retention practices and speculated that there should be some kind of penalty.

“Google’s document retention policy leaves a lot to be desired,” he said. “I’m surprised, or surprised, that a company would let its employees decide when to keep documents.”

Google attorney Colette Connor defended the company’s practice of generally not preserving internal company chats. “Given the typical usage of chats, it was reasonable,” she said.

While Google’s search services are free to consumers, the company generates revenue from searches by selling ads that accompany a user’s search results.

Justice Department attorney David Dahlquist said during arguments Friday that Google was able to increase its advertising revenue by growing the number of queries submitted until about 2015, when query growth slowed and they needed to make more money. with each search.

The government argues that Google’s search engine monopoly allows it to charge artificially higher prices to advertisers, which are eventually passed on to consumers.

“Price increases should be limited by competition,” Dahlquist said. “It should be the market that decides what the price increases are.”

Dahlquist said internal Google documents show that the company, free from real competition, began modifying its advertising algorithms to sometimes provide worse search ad results to users if it would increase revenue.

Google lawyer Schmidtlein said the record shows its search ads have become more effective and more useful to consumers over time, increasing from a 10% click-through rate to 30%.

Mehta has not yet said when he will govern, although it is expected that it could take several months.

If it finds that Google violated the law, then it would schedule a “remedies” phase of the trial to determine what should be done to strengthen competition in the search engine market. The government has not yet said what type of remedy it would seek.