It is the most important monopoly trial of the Internet era, but also the latest in a series of confrontations between multinational technology corporations and the United States government.
The one who sits on the bench this time is the giant Googleand has done so since this Tuesday in court number 10 of the federal courts in Washington.
The process is expected to last 10 weeks and some of the most powerful figures in the sector will parade on the stage.
Judge Amit P. Mehta, appointed in 2014 by Barack Obama, will be in charge of handing down the sentence, although may be appealed to an appeals court and, potentially, to the Supreme Court.
Below, we tell you the keys to this historic trial.
1. What the technology giant is accused of
The US Department of Justice accuses Google of abuse their dominant position in search services.
The technology giant monopolizes 90% of searches in the US
And according to the Department of Justice, it has deliberately achieved and maintained this through anticompetitive and exclusionary distribution agreements that block default search positions on browsers, mobile phones, computers, and other devices.
Justice Department prosecutor Kenneth Dintzer, in charge of opening the initial arguments on Tuesday, told the judge that in order to achieve “this privileged position” the company pays more than US$10 billion a year to device makers like Apple, telecommunications companies like AT&T, and browser makers like Mozilla.
Additionally, Dintzer claimed that Google manipulates online ad auctions to raise prices for advertisers.
“Two decades ago, Google became the darling of Silicon Valley as a startup with an innovative way to search the nascent Internet. That Google disappeared a long time ago. Today’s Google is a monopolistic guardian of the internet and one of the richest companies on the planet” reads the original indictment.
The lawsuit demands that Google be declared to have acted illegally, that the company be forced to cease its alleged practices of abuse of a dominant position and that the “necessary structural measures” to repair any anti-competitive damage.
Although it does not specify what those decisions should be.
It also requests that “any other necessary and appropriate preliminary or permanent measures be taken to restore competitive conditions in the markets affected by Google’s unlawful conduct.”
2. What Google says and how it is expected to defend itself
Basically, the company believes that its success is being punished.
“Google is certainly not the gatekeeper of the internet,” the company’s lead attorney, John E. Schmidtlein, said at Tuesday’s hearing.
And he stressed that the creators of the search engines fight to be the default tool, that Google competes hard for that position, and that if it wins it is “on their own merits”.
In addition, “this intense competition has only improved the performance and quality of browsers, which has resulted in increased use of search engines,” he added.
The arguments that Schmidtlein and the group’s other lawyers will rely on were advanced by Kent Walker, president of Global Affairs at Alphabet, Google’s parent company, in a post titled “People use Google because it is useful. Our response to US vs. Google”.
“As we have said from the beginning, This lawsuit is deeply flawed.” reads that Google blog post.
“We plan to demonstrate at trial that our search distribution agreements reflect the choices of browsers and device manufacturers based on the quality of our services and consumer preferences,” he explains.
“Making it easier for people to get the products they want benefits consumers and is supported by U.S. antitrust law.”. In short, people don’t use Google because they have to, but because they want to.”
Walker points out that it is easy to change search engines if desired and shows it with a video included in the text: it only takes two clicks if you are using Safari on your computer and four on an iPhone, for example.
In addition, Walker points out that Apple executives have said that they choose Google because it is “the best” and that their company’s agreement with browsers is not exclusive.
“Paying device makers and carriers for additional promotion of services like Chrome and Search is similar to a supermarket charging a cereal brand to put their products on display on a shelf or at the end of an aisle.”
3. Who is expected to take the stand
At the moment, the trial is scheduled for 10 weeks and dozens and dozens of witnesses will parade through the court.
Among them, he is expected to declare Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet.
His name already came up in Tuesday’s opening statements, after Dintzer insisted that Google knew that “its deals crossed antitrust lines.”
After his argument, the prosecutor showed a chat in the Pichai asked that the history of a certain chat be deactivated.
Likewise, they are expected to declare in the process several Apple heavyweights, such as Eddy Cue, vice president of Services; John Giannandrea, vice president of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Strategy; and Adrian Perica, president of Corporate Development.
Earlier this month, Cue, Giannandrea and Perica lost an appeal against being called as witnesses in the trial.
And Pichai is already in Washington DC, participating in a global forum on AI before the Senate.
Why they say the future of the internet is at stake
“This case has to do with the future of the internet,” prosecutor Dintzer warned this Tuesday.
Already in filing the lawsuit, the Justice Department compared the case to other antitrust trials whose results marked a milestone.
Specifically, with that of 1974 AT&Twhich led to the division of the telephone giant a decade later, and with that of 1998 from Microsoft in the personal computer market, for abusing the dominant position of its Windows operating system to impose its Explorer browser.
In the latter, the judge initially ruled on the breakup of Microsoft, although after filing an appeal, the case was closed with an agreement with the government.
Be that as it may, the AT&T spinoff in 1984 is credited with paving the way for the modern mobile phone industry, while the fight with Microsoft is credited with making room for Google and others on the Internet.
This is neither the first nor the last of the legal proceedings that Google faces.
Already in January, the US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, announced another lawsuit, on this occasion for the alleged abuse of a dominant position in the digital advertising market.
That case is not expected to go to trial until at least next year.
On the other hand, in the European Union the technology giant has received the three highest fines in history for anti-competitive practices.
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