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Grylls judges US and Google over antitrust claims

Grylls judges US and Google over antitrust claims

The judge overseeing the landmark U.S. antitrust challenge to Google tried to poke holes in both sides' cases during closing arguments Thursday as he weighed a ruling that could reshape the tech industry.

Judge Amit P. Mehta was presiding over the first day of closing arguments in the most high-profile antitrust case in technology since the U.S. government sued Microsoft in the late 1990s. The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Google, accusing it of illegally supporting an online search monopoly. Google denied these allegations.

On Thursday, Justice Mehta questioned the government's argument that Google's dominance has harmed the quality of the online information-seeking experience. But it also prompted Google to defend its central argument that it is not a monopoly because consumers use other companies like Amazon to search for shopping items and TikTok to search for music clips.

“I certainly don't think the average person would say that Google and Amazon are the same thing,” Judge Mehta said.

His ruling – expected in the coming weeks or months – will help set a precedent for a series of government challenges to the size and power of tech giants. Federal regulators have also filed antitrust lawsuits against Apple, Amazon and Meta, and a second case against Google over online advertising.

Before closing arguments began in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia courtroom, Jonathan Kanter, head of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, reached out to Kent Walker, Google's head of global affairs, for a chat.

Judge Mehta began the proceedings by questioning Kenneth Dentzer, the DOJ's lead courtroom attorney in the trial, about innovation in research.

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The government has argued that the lack of competition in online search – it says nearly 90 percent of all searches are done using Google – means Google does not need to invest in the quality of its search experience. But Judge Mehta told Mr. Dentzer that it would be difficult to “dispute that search today looks much different than it did 10 to 15 years ago” and that some of that change was due to Google's work.

“It seems to me that you would be hard pressed to take a path to concluding that Google has not innovated enough,” Justice Mehta said.

The Justice Department also said that because Google has a monopoly and does not face strong competition, it did not put privacy protections into its search engine. The judge interrupted Mr. Dentzer, saying there may be a “trade-off” between privacy and the quality of the research. Judge Mehta added that his challenge is how to measure whether Google has done enough to protect users' privacy.

Judge Mehta urged Google's chief prosecutor, John E. Schmidtlin, on the argument that companies like Amazon and ESPN are real competitors to its search engine. He noted that if he wanted to know who the Baltimore Orioles' player was in 1983, he would likely use Google.

The judge wondered how another company could beat Google as the auto-populated search engine for Apple's web browser, Safari. he He assumed it might be impossible without spending billions of dollars to build a competitive search engine and billions more to pay Apple.

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Judge Mehta also asked why Google should pay to be the default search engine across the web if its product is already better than those produced by its competitors.

In the midst of his conversations with the judge, Mr. Schmidtlen offered a simple explanation: “Google wins because it is the best.”