The DOJ makes closing arguments in Google Search antitrust trial

Over the next two days, a Washington D.C. court will hear closing legal arguments from both defense and prosecution in a lawsuit alleging Google has undue control over the internet search market.

It’s the conclusion of a months-long trial between the Justice Department and several attorneys general, which alleges Google has committed several violations of the Sherman Act, a U.S. federal law prohibiting monopolistic business practices, and Alphabet’s search business.

The outcome of these proceedings will have enormous repercussions for the wider online media market and serve as a prelude to further upcoming legal tussles between the Alphabet-owned entity and governments in Europe and the U.S.

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At this critical juncture for the online advertising market, it’s worth reexamining key moments in the trial, which formally opened on Sept. 12, and has laid bare aspects of Google’s operations that execs there would rather have kept quiet.

Albeit, the online giant rigorously maintains that it is innocent of all charges with Google’s defense team also due to lay out its key arguments over the next two days.

Prosecutors key talking points?

Essentially, prosecutors allege that Google is “a monopoly gatekeeper for the internet,” having employed anti-competitive tactics to corner internet search services. This includes the billions of dollars it spends with handset manufacturers, internet browsers, and telcos to maintain its default status as their search partner. 

Closing arguments will likely underline earlier trial evidence detailing paid relationships with parties such as Apple, AT&T, Motorola, Mozilla, etc., that steer billions of queries (ergo eyeballs) away from rival search engines.

Lawyers for the plaintiff are also likely to highlight evidence — much of which the defense team sought to keep from the public gaze — directly from the mouths of Google employees past and present regarding the measures it was willing to take to further ensure commercial advantage.

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The presiding judge, Amit P. Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is also likely to hear Google’s representatives counter such claims, arguing that competition is “just a click away” and that default settings are in no way binding on consumers. 

And what happens next?

Few will be able to say with a great degree of certainty what’s next for Google; such is the rarity of antitrust trials that could break up a tech and media colossus like Google. This makes it difficult to point to historical precedent (on this scale) in Google’s domestic market when it comes to search.

Legal historians and market veterans alike can point to Microsoft’s antitrust trial at the turn of the century, whereby the DOJ targeted its activities in the PC and web browser market. Here, a years-long battle resulted in a settlement that many interpret as arresting growth of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer — Google’s Chrome browser now sits aloft that market sector, but that’s a whole other antitrust conversation.

Digiday previously noted that legal experts didn’t expect the proceedings to result in a wholesale breakup of Google and that any potential resolution could be months, if not longer than a year, away.

It’s also worth noting how the DOJ’s EU contemporaries have had the search giant in their crosshairs for several years with Google’s price comparison services, a service adjacent to search, found in breach of competition laws there, resulting in fines worth billions in recent years.

This is just one of several slings and arrows whereby the online colossus faces government requests for remedies, with Google’s ad tech stack also in the the dock facing charges led by the Texas AG from early next year. The trial continues.

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