Federal prosecutors opened a landmark antitrust trial against Alphabet Inc.’s Google on Tuesday with charges the search-engine giant for years intentionally snuffed competition through exclusive contracts with wireless carriers and phone makers.
“This case is about the future of the internet, and whether Google’s search engine will ever face meaningful competition,” Justice Department lawyer Kenneth Dintzer told the court. He said Google pays more than $10 billion a year to Apple Inc. AAPL, -1.71% and other companies to ensure Google is the default or only search engine available on browsers and mobile devices used by millions of consumers.
Google’s search business accounted for more than half of the $283 billion in revenue Alphabet recorded in 2022. Search in large part has fueled the company’s $1.7 trillion market valuation.
Google attorney John Schmidtlein countered that companies and consumers use Google’s popular search engine “because it delivers value to them, not because they have to.”
The legal jousting in a Washington, D.C., federal court kicked off what is expected to be a contentious multiweek trial that could be one of the biggest domestic antitrust trials since the federal government tussled with Microsoft Corp. MSFT, -1.83% in the 1990s. Like that case, this one involves arguments over tying together multiple proprietary products.
To that end, Justice Department officials allege Google’s contracts ensure that Android devices come with Google apps and services, including Google search, preinstalled.
Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai heads a witness list of senior executives and former employees from Google, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung Electronics Co. 005930, +0.99%.
“This feedback loop, this wheel has been turning for 12 years, and it always turns to Google’s advantage,” Dintzer said.
Conversely, Schmidtlein said Apple’s decision to make Google the default search engine in its Safari browser underscores that Google’s search engine is the product consumers prefer. “Apple repeatedly chose Google as the default because Apple believed it was the best experience for its users,” he said.
The Google case “could not be more different” from Microsoft litigation in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Schmidtlein asserted. “The evidence will show that Microsoft’s Bing search engine failed to win customers because Microsoft did not invest [and] did not innovate,” he said. “At every critical juncture, the evidence will show that they were beaten in the market.”