Judge Sides With Google And Apple In Battle Over Search Partnership

A search advertiser can't proceed in court with claims that Google conspired with Apple to avoid competing in the search business, a federal judge has ruled.

In a dismissal order issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Pitts in the Northern District of California completely threw out the advertiser's claims against Apple, and sent the claims against Google to arbitration because its contract with advertisers requires arbitration of disputes.

The order came in a lawsuit brought in 2021 by Google advertiser California Crane School, which alleged that Google's longstanding status as the default search engine in Apple's Safari was part of a conspiracy to avoid competition. California Crane also contended that the alleged conspiracy resulted in higher prices for search ads.

Pitts ruled that California Crane's allegations, even if true, wouldn't prove a violation of antitrust laws.

“Google’s dominance in the search and search advertising markets alone is insufficient to allege that Google and Apple are engaged in a horizontal antitrust conspiracy, as its dominance could rationally be attributed to a number of other market factors,” Pitts wrote in an opinion issued late last week.



He added that the deal between Google and Apple “could just as easily suggest rational unilateral behavior by both companies (which each profit from the arrangement) as it could suggest the existence of an unlawful conspiracy to refrain from competing with one another in the search and search advertising markets.”

Last month, a different federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by web users who alleged that Google's search partnership with Apple violated antitrust laws.

In that case, U.S. District Court Judge Rita Lin in the Northern District of California wrote that there were “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.”

The federal government is separately suing Google for allegedly monopolizing the search market. That case, which is pending in front of U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C., largely centers on Google's search partnership with Apple.

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