How Google's Antitrust Trial Could Change the Internet Search Market

    18 October 2023

    A court in the United States is hearing evidence in a case against search engine provider Google. The government accuses the company of using illegal methods to crush business competitors.

    The U.S. Department of Justice is leading the case against Google in a court in Washington, D.C.

    The trial could change the way Google is permitted to do business in the future. The case is one of the biggest antitrust trials in American history. Antitrust is a term relating to laws designed to prevent illegal competition.

    The Google sign is shown over an entrance to the company's new building in New York on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023.
    The Google sign is shown over an entrance to the company's new building in New York on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023.

    If the trial judge rules in favor of the government, the resulting punishment could lead to new online search possibilities for individual users and businesses.

    Google's search engine earned a huge market share by helping people quickly connect to the wealth of information available on the internet. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the search technology in the late 1990s.

    The Justice Department argues that Google has an unfair advantage in the market because its search engine is the default choice on the world's most popular smartphones and web browsers.

    Witnesses from device makers, service providers and Google recently testified about one way the company's search engine is able to remain the default choice. They said the company pays an estimated $10 billion yearly to phone makers and other businesses in exchange for the default position.

    In opening arguments, Justice Department lawyer Kenneth Dintzer said, "This case is about the future of the internet and whether Google will ever face meaningful competition in search."

    Google has denied accusations that it uses unlawful methods to keep its huge market share. It says its search engine is wildly popular across the world because it offers users a high level of quality. Google lawyers have also argued that any users not happy with its search services can easily change to competitors.

    But industry experts point out that many users choose to keep Google as the default so they do not have to take additional steps to change it. Research has shown that because of this ease, very few people change the default setting of Google.

    The chief executives from two privacy-centered search engines, DuckDuckGo and Neeva, have argued that the default system favors Google and hurts their businesses. Neeva closed its operations earlier this year.

    Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also testified that Google has established a strong hold over users over the years. "You get up in the morning, you brush your teeth and you search on Google," Nadella said. He added that the only way to break this dependence is to remove Google as the default choice.

    To solve this problem, industry experts say the judge may order a requirement for smartphones and web browsers to present a series of search engines to users during the setup process. This is already being done in Europe. But research shows that so far, most European users are still choosing to go with Google.

    Florian Schaub is a professor of information at the University of Michigan who has studied people's online behavior. He says the fairest result in the trial would be a total ban on default agreements between technology companies.

    Schaub spoke to the Associated Press.

    He said the current search environment is being shaped "by the big companies that control the space." He added, "What the government can do is inject some neutralism into this and give consumers some actual choices."

    Earlier this month, a Justice Department lawyer accused Google in court of using unfair methods to push up internet advertising prices. The government argues that "Google now controls the digital tool that nearly every major website publisher uses to sell ads on their websites."

    The Justice Department accuses Google of using unfair methods to control online auctions that connect buyers and sellers of online advertising. By making small changes to the auction system, Google can drive ad prices up to make more money, government lawyers say.

    Advertisers and website publishers have long criticized Google's ad business as being too complex and secretive.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.


    Words in This Story

    default – n. what exists or happens if no changes are made

    testify – v. to make a declaration under oath for the purpose of establishing a fact (as in a court)

    consumer – n. someone who buys goods or services

    auction – n. a sale in which things are sold to the person offering the most money