Siding with Google and Apple, a federal judge has dismissed claims by a group of web users who alleged the companies' long-running search partnership violated antitrust laws.
In a decision issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Rita Lin in the Northern District of California found that the allegations in the complaint, even if true, wouldn't show that the deal between the companies prevented Apple from developing its own search engine, or blocked competition. The claims in the lawsuit center on Google's long-time status as the default search engine in Apple's Safari browser.
“There are no plausible allegations that defendants entered into an illegal horizontal agreement or that defendants’ exclusive default agreement substantially foreclosed competition in the U.S. general search services market,” Lin wrote.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit brought in 2022 by a group of consumers who alleged that the partnership between Google and Apple hindered competition to the detriment of web users as well as advertisers.
“By restricting competition in general search services, Google’s and Apple's conduct has harmed consumers of search services by reducing the quality of general search, lessening choice in general search services, and impeding innovation,” the plaintiffs alleged in their court papers.
“By suppressing competition in order to be able to charge advertisers more than it could in a competitive market, Google can also reduce the quality of the services it provides to advertisers,” the plaintiffs added.
The federal government separately sued Google in 2020 for allegedly monopolizing the search market. U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C., who presided over a trial in that matter last year, reportedly characterized Google's search partnership with Apple as the “heart” of the case.
Mehta is expected to hear closing arguments in that case later this year.
Lin's decision in the California case was based solely on allegations in the complaint, and was issued before the parties presented evidence.
Google and Apple had urged Lin to throw out the complaint at an early stage in the proceedings, arguing that the allegations were too conclusory and that the plaintiffs couldn't point to any injuries. The company also argued the plaintiffs were bound by a four-year statute of limitations -- meaning they couldn't obtain damages for any alleged antitrust violations that happened before 2018.
Lin largely agreed with the companies and dismissed with prejudice claims that they entered into an agreement not to compete. The order allows the plaintiffs to attempt to reformulate their other major claim -- that the partnership between the companies foreclosed competition in search. She gave the plaintiffs until March 6 to amend that claim.