The Justice Department and 38 states and territories on Tuesday laid out how Google had systematically wielded its power in online search to cow competitors, as the internet giant fiercely parried back, in the opening of the most consequential trial over tech power in the modern internet era.
In a packed courtroom at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in Washington, the Justice Department and states painted a picture of how Google had used its deep pockets and dominant position, paying $10 billion a year to Apple and others to be the default search provider on smartphones. Google viewed those agreements as a “powerful strategic weapon” to cut out rivals and entrench its search engine, the government said.
Reporters paid close attention when the judge scrutinized some of Google’s claims.
The star of opening arguments? Judge Mehta. He spoke only briefly, asking a handful of distilling, clarifying questions. For example, the Google lawyer John Schmidtlein went on at length saying how easy it was to switch a default search setting. Judge Mehta interrupted to ask, well, how much switching is actually done?
Schmidtlein could only point to what happened when Mozilla briefly made Microsoft’s Bing the default on the Firefox browser, and “droves” of users switched to Google. But he said there were no good overall statistics. Really? In a digital world where every click is tracked? The judge asked the right question there — and elsewhere — this morning.
This a bench trial, not a jury trial, so the parties’ goal is to convince Judge Mehta to rule in their favor. The trial will continue tomorrow and for several days beyond that, as the government’s case involves quite a bit of evidence. Many Google employees will be questioned by DOJ attorneys.
The trial proceedings are not being televised due to federal court rules, so there’s no way to watch. The tech press will thus have an outsized role in informing the public and observers.