A Department of Justice attorney told a judge Tuesday morning that Google illegally monopolizes search by arranging to serve as the default search engine on other companies' browsers and mobile devices, while Google's attorney countered that it commands the largest share of searches due to the quality of its search engine.
The lawyers' arguments came at the start of a long-awaited trial in an antitrust lawsuit brought by federal officials and a coalition of states.
"This case is about the future of the internet and whether Google will ever face meaningful competition," Justice Department attorney Kenneth Dintzer said in his hour-long opening statement to U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C.
The federal antitrust claims center on Google's status as the default search engine on Apple, Mozilla and phone manufacturers. Those defaults, for which Google pays $10 billion a year, result in more searches on its engine, Dintzer said.
He argued that the increased searches give Google more data -- "the oxygen for a search engine" -- which creates a "feedback loop" that allows Google to maintain its dominance.
He added in response to a question from U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta that the defaults account for 50% of all Google searches.
Attorney William Cavanaugh, who represents a coalition of states suing Google, called attention in a separate opening statement to the Federal Trade Commission's decision in 2013 to close an investigation into whether the company wrongly preferenced its own services in the search results.
"The evidence will show there is no basis to give Google another pass from enforcement of the antitrust laws."
The battle began in late 2020, when federal and state authorities sued Google for allegedly violating anti-monopoly laws. Among other claims, the government alleged that Google obtained dominance in search by arranging to be the default search engine in Mozilla's Firefox browser and Apple's Safari browser, and to have its search engine pre-installed on Android smartphones.
While some of those deals go back nearly 20 years, Dintzer said Tuesday in response to a question from Mehta that the federal claims focus on Google conduct since 2010.
Google attorney John Schmidtlein countered in his opening statement that the company's search engine is dominant due to its quality.He contended that Apple "repeatedly" chose Google to be the default search engine because that provided the best experience for users.
Schmidtlein also said Apple makes it easy for iPhone users to change search engines, adding it only requires "four taps on the phone."
Both Dintzer and Schmidtlein noted that Mozilla briefly changed its default engine to Yahoo around eight years ago, but reverted to Google due to quality issues.
Dintzer argued that Mozilla's move proves "the playing field is not equal," while Google's Schmidtlein suggested Mozilla's reversal proves that Google's search engine is superior.
Schmidtlein also pointed out that Mozilla designed Firefox with prominent links to other search engines, to enable users to easily switch.
Schmidtlein added that default agreements aren't exclusive and don't prevent consumers from using their preferred applications.
“The court will hear evidence about instances where Google has not been the default search engine, but users flocked to Google anyway,” he said.
For instance, he said, Google gets an “overwhelming” share of searches on Windows PCs, even though many Windows devices are preloaded with Microsoft's Bing.
Schmidtlein also argued that despite its alleged dominance among search engines, Google faces competition in the digital ad space from other companies, including Amazon.