The Department of Justice’s antitrust case against Google is finally underway, and its results could reshape how consumers access the internet. In particular, the D.C. District Court judge’s verdict may particularly affect how users search the web on a daily basis.
To understand what’s at stake in what may be the biggest tech monopoly trial since the DOJ went after Microsoft over two decades ago, it’s important to focus specifically on what prosecutors are alleging. During Tuesday’s opening remarks, DOJ lead lawyer Kenneth Dintzer argued the tech giant violated anti-monopoly law through multiple, years’ long exclusive agreements with browser and phone makers. Via contracts with companies such as Apple, Google’s search engine became the default for programs like Safari browser, while similar contracts with phone makers ensured products came preinstalled with various Google apps. In doing so, the DOJ argues Google left little-to-no market room for rival search engine makers, aka created an illegal monopoly.
Google’s legal team’s defense is that, ostensibly, it’s a testament to the company’s popularity that businesses and consumers utilize products like Chrome more than any other option to peruse the web. Additionally, everyone is still free to use alternatives if they want.
[Related: DOJ accuses Google of buying its position as a default search engine.]
As The Verge reports, Dintzer at one point went so far as to allege Google has illegally maintained its monopoly since around 2010—implying the monopoly in question existed well before that date. When pressed by the judge, Dintzer also estimated that as much as 50 percent of all Google searches originate via one of the company’s paid-for defaults.
The big question, of course, is what happens if federal judge Amit Mehta sides with the DOJ. If Mehta rules against Google, the government could set a new precedent on how it approaches the most powerful tech businesses regarding antitrust and industry monopoly violations. Specifically for Google, however, this could entail new restrictions on its business practices, and potentially break up certain parts of its overall empire. This would hypothetically clear the way for new companies’ innovative products that would otherwise face difficulty attempting to gain any kind of foothold in a digital ecosystem ostensibly overseen and guided by Google. A loss for Google would also set a precedent for the DOJ to pursue similar cases against companies like Meta and Amazon.
If the court dismisses the DOJ’s claims, however, Google leaders could feel emboldened to reaffirm their place atop the industry. But as NBC News notes, such a loss could be spun into evidence for Congress to pursue modernized antitrust laws aimed squarely at tech giants.