What’s at stake in Google’s antitrust case? Billions of dollars (and how we use the internet)

What’s at stake in Google’s antitrust case? Billions of dollars (and how we use the internet)

Whenever you type a search into Apple’s Safari browser — say, on an iPhone — it’s likely Google that returns the results.

You can tell Safari to choose another search engine, but in practice most people tend to default to Google.

You probably know that Google pays Apple a huge amount of money every year for that prime placement. What you may not know is how much.

By May 2021, Google was paying Apple more than $1 billion a month, according to the US government, and as much as $20 billion in total by 2022 — just for the privilege of being Apple’s primary search engine.

The eye-popping numbers, just revealed this week, come from a blockbuster antitrust lawsuit against Google that has just entered its closing stages. They highlight the enormous importance of a case that could revolutionize how millions of Americans find information online and, some say, reshape the high-stakes battle for dominance in artificial intelligence.

On Thursday, the Justice Department launched its latest assault on Google’s search engine dominance, settling a case that began during the Trump administration and trying to persuade federal judges that Google illegally monopolized the online search industry through payments of the kind made to Apple. .

Closing arguments in the case will continue until Friday, and District Judge Amit Mehta is expected to issue a decision later this year after a grueling 10-week trial last fall that was largely closed to the public.

The outcome could have far-reaching effects on the tech industry, acting as an enabler not only for the billions Google pays to Apple, wireless carriers and other device makers but for the pipeline of tech antitrust cases moving through the courts.

Government lawyers in the case argued that Google maintained an illegal monopoly through a web of contracts that made its search engine the default on millions of devices and browsers around the world.

The contract, the DOJ has alleged, allowed Google to build an indisputable search business that collected more data that revealed what users were looking for — creating a feedback loop that allowed Google to refine its product at the expense of fair competition. At the hearing, Microsoft told the court that Google was trying to turn that search data advantage into an artificial intelligence advantage by training its models on large volumes of search queries that no one else had access to.

Google has argued that users choose its search engine because it is the best, not because of anticompetitive behavior, and that Google search helps support its Android operating system, which competes with Apple. Nothing prevents Apple from choosing a different default search partner, Google said.

But DOJ lawyers have questioned the logic of Google’s payments and contracts. If Google’s products really are better than the competition, they have asked, and if it’s as easy to switch search engines as Google claims, then why spend tens of billions of dollars a year to be the default search provider everywhere?

‘Microsoft can’t do it’
Throughout the proceedings, Mehta had kept his own cards close to the vest. At the end of the trial last fall, he told both sides that he really hadn’t made up his mind.

“I can tell you, as I sit here today, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Mehta said last November.

Mehta maintained that routine on Thursday, asking both sides tough questions on the first day of closing arguments.

At one point, Mehta pointed out to Google attorney John Schmidtlein that to shift Google’s dominant position, a hypothetical competitor would not only have to invest billions in viable search engine alternatives but also billions to compete with Google’s contracts with Apple and others. other.

“If that’s what it takes for someone to get rid of Google as the default search engine, wouldn’t the people who wrote the Sherman Act care about that?” Mehta asked, referring to key US antitrust laws. “I can’t imagine a world where some of the other competitors, especially the new competitors, could do that. Microsoft can’t do that.”

Schmidtlein replied that US antitrust laws protect the competitive process, not competitors.

It is not clear how much longer District Judge Amit Mehta can me issued a decision after this week’s arguments. But if he sides with the US government and finds fault with Google, it will trigger separate proceedings to determine what penalties Google may face.

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