Is the end of Google near? The Department of Justice filed its lawsuit against Google, and by extension Alphabet, in late 2020. While the particulars have been allowed to simmer in the background, the trial has moved forward. The lawsuit heralds a change in the landscape of the internet itself.
The DOJ hasn’t set its sights on a tech magnate since the anti-trust lawsuit presented to Microsoft over 20 years ago. Google’s case is a far different beast, with far larger ramifications for the tech giant. Instead of spending your day disseminating live tweets and articles, let’s take a closer look at what this means.
How Is Google Violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act?
Before discussing why Google is being sued by the DOJ, it is important to shed a little more light on anti-trust laws. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act is one of the older laws on the books, dating back to 1890. It is the first piece of American legislation aimed at monopolistic practices.
The DOJ alleges that Google is in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act. Google is alleged to hold exclusionary agreements with a variety of companies to maintain its default status as the search engine of choice. The tech giant itself pays around $10 billion annually in deals with Apple and other companies.
Google also has deals with various Android device manufacturers, which also opt for the service as its default search engine. Google has gone so far as to actually make it part of the agreement to use Android as an operating system. This also comes with a full suite of Google Apps as a requisite. This is directly linked to Section 2, which is also the main section of the law cited against previous lawsuits with AT&T and Microsoft.
What Are the Aims of the Department of Justice’s Lawsuit?
The Department of Justice is seeking to break the stranglehold Google has on the search engine market. By presenting the lawsuit, the overall aim of the Justice Department is to allow better competition. Companies like Microsoft have claimed they aren’t allowed to refine and develop Bing.
A statement given by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in 2020 stated, “As with its historic antitrust actions against AT&T in 1974 and Microsoft in 1998, the Department is again enforcing the Sherman Act to restore the role of competition and open the door for the next wave of innovation.”
Other particulars from the complaint center around Google’s use of exclusivity agreements, forcing the installation of apps on devices against customer wishes, and offering subpar products due to its market dominance. A trial won by the DOJ could be the end of Google as the main driving force of internet searches.
Google’s response to the DOJ’s initial statement was quick. In a blog post from 2020 titled, “A deeply flawed lawsuit that would do nothing to help consumers”, Kent Walker attempted to directly address the complaint.
Google’s President of Global Affairs claims the lawsuit itself is flawed and dubious at best. Companies enter into exclusive search engine agreements because it is the best option, at least according to Google. Therefore, the company itself hasn’t really done anything wrong.
However, the rebuttal itself doesn’t really address the 90% market share it enjoys for search queries. Google has been the preferred search engine for decades and drives content practices for written, video, and other advertising practices.
The simple fact is that if you’re working on the web, you’re working around the rules Google sets. This isn’t a matter of adjusting to Bing and other services. Google rules the roost, and the company is rather swift to point out that alternatives are only a few steps away.
How Does Google’s Suit Differ From Microsoft’s?
Google’s lawsuit does share some similarities with the 1998 Microsoft trial. However, barring surface details, the particulars are far different. The 1998 Microsoft trial centered around the dominance of Internet Explorer, and, by proxy, Windows operating systems on PCs.
Smaller browsers, like Netscape, suffered greatly due to the anti-competitive practices enabled by Microsoft. Manufacturers using Windows as the main operating system of their machines would have to allow Internet Explorer to be installed, with no option of removal.
Now, it is important to note the DOJ did win its case against Microsoft. While the company itself wasn’t broken up due to a 2003 appeal, it has had a lasting impact on the company and computing as a whole.
In the 25 years since, Google has entered into new territory. While the tech giant does have a massive install base for its internet browser, its search engine is the main point of contention. Google Search isn’t just a requirement on PCs — it is seen in all mobile devices, Apple computers, and much more.
The company itself pays for this exclusivity but reaps the benefits of advertisers and other services relying on the search service. This is the crux of the DOJ’s argument, which is far different in scope than the 1998 trial against Microsoft.
The Long-Term Consequences of a Verdict Against Google
So, does the trial signal the end of Google? It very well could signal a change in the status quo. 2023 has been a year of massive changes, and the DOJ’s lawsuit against the tech giant is a landmark case. The longer-lasting impacts of the trial, if the DOJ wins, would effectively end Google’s dominance.
The company would no longer be allowed to pay for general exclusivity agreements with manufacturers like Apple. Instead, Google would become another simple option for search, like Bing and other search engines.
Now, this seems simple in scope, but you need to understand how vast Google’s reach actually is. Google accounts for over 90% of all search engine queries. It is the default search engine of the internet and a service that has become a common parlance for seeking information online.
By removing its ability to purchase exclusivity, Google loses its hold on the market. Competitors like Bing and Meta could very easily grow their advertising structuring to fill the void. Search engines would be more varied, given that they have enough users to actually drive traffic.
It is a massive change, and could very well be the end of Google as a dominant player in the online landscape. It also could very easily change the landscape of the internet, since queries are no longer tied to a central service.
The Opening Day of the Trial
September 12th marked the opening day of the trial. This is a slower process, mostly establishing opening statements. The actual process of anti-trust lawsuits is quite a complex beast, with this initial stage taking up to ten weeks. The DOJ’s opening statement had an ominous ring to it, with Kenneth Dintzner stating, “The case is about the future of the internet. If Google sets the rules, it will always be to their advantage.”
The statement of the lead attorney for Google, John Schmidtlein, was almost dismissive, “Users today have more search options and more ways to access information than ever before.” Calling back to the initial blog rebuttal, Schmidtlein reiterated that replacing your search engine is a matter of a few clicks.
This lawsuit is the end of Google in a sense. It will no doubt continue to be a major player in the online landscape. However, things are going to drastically change given the strength of the arguments and information gathered by the Justice Department.
It is too early to say what will become of Google, and whether it will continue to exist as the same entity. Microsoft was threatened with breaking up of its various departments decades ago, and a similar fate could be awaiting Google. The coming weeks are fraught with tension, as though the very fate of the internet itself hangs in the balance.
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