Google and the Justice Department provide final arguments on whether the search engine is a monopoly

WASHINGTON— Google’s dominance as an Internet search engine is an illegal monopoly supported by more than $20 billion that the tech giant spends each year to lock out competition, Justice Department lawyers argued at the conclusion of a high-stakes antitrust case.

Google, on the other hand, claims that its ubiquity is due to its excellence and its ability to deliver the results customers want.

“It would be an unprecedented decision to punish a company for winning the case,” said Google lawyer John Schmidtlein, summarizing the company’s closing arguments late Friday afternoon.

Justice Department lawyer Ken Dintzer told the judge that “today must be the day” when he can step in and stop Google’s monopolistic behavior, which he compared to Microsoft’s tactics two decades ago, which led a similar antitrust dispute triggered.

The U.S. government, a coalition of states and Google made their closing arguments Friday in the 10-week lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who must now decide whether Google violated the law by maintaining its monopoly status as a search engine.

The biggest antitrust case in more than two decades focused on how Google draws its strength from deals with companies like Apple to make it the default search engine on phones and computers.

The trial showed that Google spends more than $20 billion a year on such contracts. Justice Department lawyers said the huge sum shows how important it is for Google to make itself the default search engine and prevent competitors from gaining a foothold.

Google responds that customers could easily switch to other search engines if they wanted to, but that consumers invariably prefer Google. Companies like Apple testified in court that they work with Google because they believe its search engine is superior.

Google also argues that the government is defining the search engine market too narrowly. While it maintains a dominant position over other general search engines such as Bing and Yahoo, Google says it faces much more intense competition when consumers conduct targeted searches. For example, the tech giant says shoppers may be more likely to search for products Amazon Vacation planners may be more likely to search on AirBnB than Google, and hungry guests may be more likely to search for a restaurant on Yelp.

And Google has said social media companies like it Facebook And Tick ​​tock also represent tough competition.

During Friday’s arguments, Mehta questioned whether some of these other companies were really operating in the same market. He said social media companies can generate advertising revenue by trying to present ads that appear to match a consumer’s interests. But he said Google can serve ads to consumers in direct response to queries they make.

“Only with Google can we see directly stated intent,” Mehta said.

Schmidtlein responded that social media companies “have lots and lots of information about your interests, which I think is just as powerful.”

The company has also argued that its market strength is weak as the Internet continues to reinvent itself. Early in the trial, it was noted that many experts once believed it was irrefutable that Yahoo would always dominate search. Today it is said that younger tech consumers sometimes think of Google as “Grandpa Google.”

Government lawyers also argued that the tech company should be punished for the “systemic destruction of documents,” which they said was carried out intentionally to hide evidence of monopolistic intentions and practices.

Evidence from the trial showed that Google’s lawyers recommended that employees ensure their work chats were not saved due to the potential legal implications.

The government asked Mehta to impose a sanction that would allow the judge to conclude that all deleted chats were unfavorable to Google in terms of their anti-competitive intent.

Mehta said he was unsure whether he would accept the government’s request, but expressed strong criticism of its document retention practices and suspected there should be some sort of sanction.

“Google’s document retention policies leave a lot to be desired,” he said. “It is shocking or surprising to me that a company would allow its employees to decide when to retain documents.”

Google lawyer Colette Connor defended the company’s practice of not retaining internal company chats. “Given the typical use of chat, this was reasonable,” she said.

While Google’s search services are free for consumers, the company generates revenue from searches by selling ads that accompany a user’s search results.

Justice Department lawyer David Dahlquist said during arguments Friday that Google was able to increase its advertising revenue by increasing the number of search queries submitted until search growth slowed around 2015 and the company needed to make more money from each search.

The government argues that Google’s search engine monopoly allows it to charge advertisers artificially higher prices, which are ultimately passed on to consumers.

“Price increases should be limited by competition,” Dahlquist said. “It should be the market that decides the level of price increases.”

Dahlquist said internal Google documents show that the company, unencumbered by any real competition, began tweaking its ad algorithms to sometimes give users worse search ad results when it wanted to increase revenue.

Google’s attorney, Schmidtlein, said the records show that search ads have become more effective and helpful to consumers over time, with click-through rates increasing from 10% to 30%.

Mehta has not yet said when he will rule, but there is an expectation it could be several months.

If he finds that Google has violated the law, he would schedule a “remedial” phase of the process to determine what should be done to increase competition in the search engine market. The government has not yet said what kind of remedy it would seek.

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