Alphabet Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer, Sundar Pichai, made a significant appearance in court on Monday to defend Google against antitrust charges brought forth by the U.S. government. Pichai’s testimony aimed to portray Google’s position as the dominant internet search engine as being under constant challenge from competitors like Apple Inc.
The U.S. Department of Justice contends that Google’s payments of up to $26 billion in 2021 to secure its position as the default search engine on mobile phones, PCs, and other devices have unfairly stifled potential competitors, including Microsoft Corp. and DuckDuckGo. Apple’s decision to stick with Google as its default search engine is also a subject of contention due to the lucrative multibillion-dollar agreement between the two tech giants.
Despite Google’s commanding share of approximately 90% in the search engine market, the company has argued that it faces increasing competition from alternative ways people seek information online. Previous witnesses in Google’s defense have described how consumers now frequently search for products to purchase on platforms like TikTok and Amazon, or for travel advice on Expedia Group Inc.
Pichai’s testimony at the trial revealed that when Google’s longstanding contract with Apple was renegotiated in 2016, he aimed to ensure that the default status remained unchanged, as it had been for years. He expressed concerns that Apple might start routing queries from its Safari web browser to competitors like Amazon instead of through Google search, which could lead to additional deals.
The pivotal nature of Google’s partnership with Apple is underlined by the market share held by the iPhone. While the exact financial details of this deal remain confidential, the U.S. Department of Justice has previously estimated that Google pays Apple between $4 billion and $8 billion annually.
Pichai emphasized that Google’s payments are determined based on the value perceived, including enhanced promotion of Google search. In one instance, an email exchange between Pichai and an Apple executive discussed not promoting Google Chrome to Safari users on Mac computers, although this agreement was not ultimately implemented as Google and Apple also compete in areas such as browsers and maps.
During the cross-examination, the Justice Department’s lawyer sought to illustrate Google’s efforts to appease Apple and maintain their partnership. Notes from a 2018 meeting between Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed discussions about revenue sharing and Google’s commitment to answer user queries faithfully due to aligned incentives.
The U.S. Department of Justice contends that Google leverages its dominant position to extract more money from advertisers, often through opaque changes to ad auction rules. Pichai asserted that Google’s aim is to make the web more accessible through products like the Chrome browser and Android operating system.
Judge Amit Mehta is not expected to issue a decision until the following year, and any final resolution to the case is likely years away, with potential appeals and additional trials on remedies if the government prevails.