In the first tech antitrust trial in decades, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is gearing up to challenge Google’s dominance in the digital realm. While this trial primarily focuses on Google’s monolithic search engine, the implications it carries for the tech giant’s vast business empire are far-reaching. Over a span of ten weeks, the Justice Department, spanning two presidential administrations, has meticulously built its case, alleging that Google engaged in illegal practices to stifle competition within the online search sphere. In response, Google has assembled an army of hundreds of employees and enlisted the support of three formidable law firms, shelling out millions of dollars in legal fees and lobbying efforts.
This landmark trial commences in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, where a judge will commence the process of weighing both sides’ arguments. At its core, this trial addresses a longstanding question: Did today’s tech titans attain their dominant positions through unlawful means?
The case, officially known as “US et al v. Google,” marks the federal government’s first monopoly trial within the modern internet era. It comes at a time when a generation of tech companies has risen to wield unparalleled influence across various domains, including commerce, information dissemination, public discourse, entertainment, and labor. This legal battle signifies a pivotal shift in the antitrust fight against these tech giants, moving beyond scrutinizing their mergers and acquisitions and delving deeper into the very core of the businesses that catapulted them to prominence.
Not since the Department of Justice squared off against Microsoft in 1998 for antitrust violations has a case of such magnitude over tech power unfolded. However, in the intervening years, companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta (formerly Facebook and Instagram) have entrenched themselves even further into people’s lives. Any ruling arising from this trial holds the potential for widespread ramifications, potentially impeding or even disbanding these colossal internet companies that have enjoyed unchecked growth for decades.
Such a consequential case over tech power has not unfolded since the Justice Department took Microsoft to court in 1998 for antitrust violations. But since then, companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, have woven themselves into people’s lives to an even greater degree. Any ruling from the trial could have broad ripple effects, slowing down or potentially dismantling the largest internet companies after decades of unbridled growth.
The stakes are particularly high for Google, the Silicon Valley company founded in 1998, which grew into a $1.7 trillion giant by becoming the first place people turned to online to search the web. The government has said in its complaint that it wants Google to change its monopolistic business practices, potentially pay damages and restructure itself.
The stakes in this legal battle are particularly sky-high for Google, a Silicon Valley behemoth that emerged in 1998 and subsequently evolved into a $1.7 trillion juggernaut by becoming the default online destination for web searches. The government’s complaint outlines its objectives clearly: it seeks to compel Google to reform its monopolistic business practices, potentially award damages, and contemplate a substantial restructuring. The outcome of this trial will undoubtedly be a watershed moment in the ongoing struggle to regulate and balance the immense power held by tech giants in the digital age.
“This is a pivotal case and a moment to create precedents for these new platforms that lend themselves to real and durable market power,” said Laura Phillips-Sawyer, who teaches antitrust law at the University of Georgia School of Law.
The case centers on whether Google illegally cemented its dominance and squashed competition by paying Apple and other companies to make its internet search engine the default on the iPhone as well as on other devices and platforms.