What’s going on with Google’s monopoly trial in the US?

12 Sep 2023

Image: © Jerome/Stock.adobe.com

The trial is being described as the biggest since the US challenged Microsoft’s dominance in 1998 and could lead to Google being broken up if it loses.

Google is facing a massive antitrust trial in the US, which could have significant ramifications for the tech sector and the company’s search market dominance.

This particular case has been a looming threat for Google for years, but the trial is set to begin today (12 September) and will reportedly last for roughly 10 weeks. The case begins less than two weeks after Google marked its 25th birthday.

The case is being described as the biggest monopoly trial of the 21st century and is being compared to the US lawsuit against Microsoft in 1998 over similar antitrust concerns.

What is the trial about?

The US Department of Justice claims Google has actively worked to maintain a monopoly when it comes to search engines and online advertising. The claims are that Google has spent billions of dollars to strike deals with phone manufacturers and browsers, in order to make Google their default search engine.

This claim was first issued in 2020 by the US department after an investigation into Big Tech competition, which saw Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai defend the company’s actions at a US Congress antitrust hearing earlier that year.

In January 2023, the department also claimed Google monopolises key digital advertising technologies – collectively referred to as the ‘adtech stack’ – that both advertisers and publishers rely on to buy and sell ads.

This complaint claims that Google has asserted its dominance in the adtech space by eliminating competition through acquisitions, forcing more publishers and advertisers to use its products and thwarting the ability to use competing products.

What does Google say in defense?

Google appears to be holding on to the same position it had in 2020 – that people simply choose to use its search engine and are not being forced to.

Kent Walker, president of Google’s global affairs, shared a similar statement with NPR recently and added that it is “easy” for users to switch their default search engine. The tech giant also claims that it faces a wide range of competition.

With the amount of ad revenue Google makes from its search adverts, it has been reported that the company has put together a massive legal team to fight this antitrust case.

Does Google have a dominant market position?

It can’t be denied that Google has a stranglehold on the global search market, with reports claiming that it handles more than 90pc of all search queries.

The only real pushback against this dominance took place earlier this year, when Microsoft decided to give Bing a boost with AI. While still not comparable in scale to Google’s userbase, Microsoft’s tactic saw Bing cross the 100m daily active user milestone in March.

The surge in Bing popularity was noticed by Google however, which launched its own chatbot called Bard to present its own generative-AI search assistant.

What could happen to Google if it loses?

Aside from the usual risks of penalties being imposed on Google, there is also the possibility that the company could be split apart if it loses this case.

This is due to the fact it bears many similarities to a monopoly case against Microsoft in 1998, which ruled that the company had attempted to monpolise the PC market.

That case ruled that Microsoft should be split into two companies, one which would handle its operating system and another that would handle everything else. This ruling never took place as Microsoft reached a different settlement in 2001, but it could be used as a precedent for the current case against Google.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic