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The future of Google and Big Tech — hangs in the balance at trial

Geoff Weiss   

The future of Google — and Big Tech — hangs in the balance at trial
  • Google's landmark antitrust trial concludes this week in DC.
  • The outcome will have massive implications for other tech giants facing scrutiny from regulators.

Google is about to learn its fate.

Its landmark antitrust trial is wrapping up this week in DC with closing arguments, capping off a yearslong saga.

And its not just Alphabet that needs to pay attention. The findings in the case will have massive regulatory implications for not just the world's biggest search engine, but also fellow tech behemoths like Amazon, Apple, and Meta.

The 10-week trial, presided over by US District Judge Amit Mehta, featured testimony from the likes of Microsoft chief Satya Nadella and Google CEO Sundar Pichai — the defense's star witness.

The Department of Justice first filed suit in 2020, alleging that Google's deals that made it the default search-engine provider for device makers like Apple blocked off healthy competition.

Google says its deals aren't exclusive, and that users can always switch their default browsers — though one government expert testified in September that it wasn't easy.

Google also argued that it simply makes good search products, and noted that the rise of AI technology has increased competition.

"People don't use Google because they have to — they use it because they want to," Kent Walker, Google's president of global affairs, previously told Business Insider in a statement.

In the end, Judge Mehta can clear Google or find it liable, which could result in changes to its search-engine contracts. Mehta could even bar Google from making future deals around its search engine.

Worse — and perhaps least likely — Google could be ordered to make structural changes.

The trial provided a glimpse at Google's massive search deals

Though the trial wasn't publicly broadcast, certain exhibits and moments of testimony have given us a glimpse into Google's inner workings.

In November, an apparent slip-up by an expert witness for Google revealed the company pays Apple a staggering 36% of the ad revenues it gets when people search in Safari.

It also emerged at trial that Google spent around $26 billion in 2021 to be the default search engine for various smartphone makers — with Apple's cut being about $18 billion, The New York Times reported.

In 2022, that figure climbed to an eye-watering $20 billion, according to new court documents.

As part of the trial, an email from Nadella was made public that highlighted Microsoft's concerns about Google's AI prowess all the way back in 2019.

Still, Google has tried to downplay its power. In his testimony, Prabhakar Raghavan, a senior vice president at the company, said the search giant is referred to as "Grandpa Google" in some circles, adding that company executives fear its influence might be dwindling.

Apple, Amazon, and Meta face similar regulatory battles

Google's antitrust case is the most consequential since Microsoft faced comparable DOJ scrutiny in the late '90s.

DOJ lawyers have even argued that the ruling against Microsoft at the time paved the way for Google and Apple to become the behemoths they are now, the AP reported. Microsoft settled in 2001 after agreeing to restructure its business.

The DOJ filed an antitrust suit against Apple in March, alleging that the iPhone maker was suppressing app development and worsening the quality of cross-platform messaging, among other claims.

And in September, the FTC sued Amazon for inflating prices on its marketplace and overcharging smaller sellers.

The agency previously sued Meta in a bid to force it to sell Instagram and WhatsApp, which it said marked a monopoly.

US regulators are clearly taking aim at Big Tech again.

Mehta's decision — which could come later this summer or early in the fall, the AP reported — will be the biggest signal yet about how likely the government's other regulatory battles are to succeed.