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Google's lawsuit history: The biggest legal cases against the search giant, including antitrust and class-action suits

Michelle Mark   

Google's lawsuit history: The biggest legal cases against the search giant, including antitrust and class-action suits
  • Google has faced numerous lawsuits over privacy, intellectual property, monopoly tactics, and more.
  • Google is currently battling two key antitrust cases over its search engine and advertising tactics.

Google is one of the world's largest and most influential companies, and the most popular search engine by far. So it's no surprise that the search giant's rapidly evolving and boundary-pushing technology would attract litigation over the course of its 25-year history.

Google has been sued in dozens, if not hundreds of high-profile controversies over privacy, intellectual property, discrimination, advertising, and even defamation, and has racked up both wins and losses over the years.

Some of Google's most consequential legal cases have occurred in 2023 and 2024, including two major antitrust cases and several class-action lawsuits. Here's what you need to know about the biggest recent cases to land on Google's docket.

Why did the US government sue Google over antitrust violations?

The US government's battle against Google has resulted in two major antitrust cases that are both still ongoing.

One case culminated in a landmark monopoly trial in the fall of 2023, which is still awaiting a verdict. The dispute centered on whether Google has illegally abused its monopoly over the search engine industry, spending billions of dollars each year to suppress competition. The US government argued that Google's business dealings have blocked innovation in the search business to the detriment of internet users.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified in the antitrust trial in October 2023, and defended instances in which Google pushed companies like Apple and other smartphone makers into revenue-sharing agreements that would make Google the default search engine on phones and computers.

The Google CEO even acknowledged on the stand that company executives knew that becoming the default search engine on smartphones "would lead to increased usage of our products and services."

The second major antitrust case against Google concerns its online advertising strategies, and is set to go to trial in September 2024. The US government has alleged that Google illegally abused its monopoly over the digital advertising market by acquiring its competitors and forcing website publishers to adopt Google's tools, such as Google Ads, thereby suppressing the rise of rival technologies.

Google has denied any wrongdoing in both cases. The search giant argued during its 2023 trial that Google dominates the search business because it's superior to its rivals, not because of its business dealings. Google has similarly denied the claims in the advertising-related monopoly case, saying its acquisitions were legal and actually enable innovative new advertising technologies, and that the federal government's lawsuit could undo years of industry progress.

What happens if Google loses its antitrust cases?

It's unclear who will win the antitrust case on Google's search engine. Judge Amit Mehta will be the one to decide the outcome, rather than a jury, and Mehta vigorously questioned both sides during closing arguments in May 2024.

If Google loses the lawsuit, Mehta is expected to take some sort of action that would boost competition in the search-engine business. Google could face consequences like orders to adjust its business practices, or even a total ban on its contracts to make Google the default search engine.

Both antitrust cases carry potentially massive implications for internet users — Google could face sanctions that alter its operations so dramatically that it loses its ubiquity in the search and advertising industries, paving the way for new companies and technologies to flourish.

Google's antitrust cases will also likely influence the outcomes of other antitrust lawsuits the US government has filed against major tech companies. Currently, Amazon, Apple, and Meta all face similar antitrust lawsuits against their business practices that could threaten their market dominance.

What to know about Google's class-action settlements and who can claim money

Google has been the subject of two major class-action lawsuits that were resolved or nearing resolution in late 2023 and 2024.

One of the most hotly anticipated resolutions was that of a class-action case involving personal data collected from 136 million Google Chrome users. The lawsuit accused Google of tracking the internet activity of users who had switched to Google's "incognito" setting.

As part of a settlement agreement, Google said it would delete the search data collected from those 136 million users, which Google said was merely "old personal technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization."

Lawyers initially sought a $5 billion payout for consumers, but anyone expecting to receive a chunk of that money will need to sue Google individually to receive any damages. The settlement agreement for the class-action case did not include any monetary damages to be paid out by Google.

Google does, however, have to pay out roughly $700 million as part of a separate class-action case involving the Google Play Store. Attorneys general from five states accused Google of using monopoly tactics to box out competitors to the Google Play Store and limited users' ability to download Android apps from other app stores.

An estimated 102 million consumers were affected between August 16, 2016, and September 30, 2023, and are entitled to compensation of at least $2, the settlement agreement stipulated. Consumers who are eligible for the Google settlement don't need to submit any sort of claim to get that money, however. Consumers will receive automatic payments through PayPal or Venmo.

Google's battle over Europe's "right to be forgotten" laws

One of Google's biggest legal battles in the 2010s concerned the European Court of Justice's "right to be forgotten" ruling and whether Google was responsible for personal data that appears in its search results. Google lost its case in 2014, and the EU court ruled that individuals have the right to remove information about themselves from search engine results.

Under the ruling, Google must respond to legitimate requests from individuals to delist webpages from its search results. Larry Page, one of Google's founders and a former CEO, spoke out vehemently against the EU court's "right to be forgotten" ruling at the time, warning that repressive foreign governments could abuse the ruling.

However, in 2019, Google won a "right to be forgotten" victory in a subsequent EU court ruling, which stipulated that Google only has to delist content from search results in Europe, and the "right to be forgotten" does not apply globally.

Recent research has suggested that Google and Microsoft together have received some 150,000 "right to be forgotten" requests to delist search results each year since the EU court's ruling in 2014. The vast majority of the links targeted for delisting were from Facebook, X, and YouTube.

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