Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, criticized Microsoft’s browser while defending his own company’s browser and search engine in a big legal case with the U.S. government on Monday.
He was addressing the court during the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Google related to its dominance in search and search advertising.
During the trial on Monday, Pichai pointed out some flaws in Microsoft’s browser, Internet Explorer, to bolster its argument.
He said that before Google came out with its Chrome browser, there wasn’t much happening to improve browsers, showing that competition was stagnating. He added that Microsoft didn’t seem interested in improving Internet Explorer, and called Chrome a big step up when it was released in 2008.
Pichai also mentioned that Google made it simple for users to switch to another default search engine in the Chrome browser if they wanted to.
Pichai has a long track record at the company, and the U.S. government revealed emails indicating that Pichai had concerns about Google being the sole search option for Apple. Before he even became CEO, he suggested that Apple should also offer Yahoo as an alternative, citing both user experience and public perception issues. The FTC might have a much better antitrust case if Chrome was the only option on Apple devices.
The Legal Landscape: Unpacking the Antitrust Accusations
In January 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an antitrust lawsuit against Google. The suit alleges that Google has violated specific sections of the Sherman Act, a law designed to ensure fair competition in the marketplace.
The Sherman Act is divided into two key sections:
- Section 1 addresses illegal restraints on trade, which often manifest through contracts or agreements that inhibit competition. In Google’s case, if it’s proven that the company has entered into exclusive contracts with smartphone manufacturers or browser developers to make Google the default search engine , this could be seen as a violation of Section 1.
- Section 2 deals with the abuse of monopoly power. A company is in violation if it gains or maintains a monopoly through improper practices rather than through skill or innovation. Here, the concern is that Google may have leveraged its dominant position in the search market to suppress competition. To prove a violation, the government would need to show that Google not only has a monopoly but also engaged in anti-competitive behavior to maintain it.
In short, the U.S. government is accusing Google of anti-competitive behavior, claiming it paid phone makers and browsers to prioritize Google Search, sidelining rivals. Google is arguing that these deals are fair and don’t prevent user choice or competition. Legally, the onus is on the Justice Department to prove that these deals harm competition.
As of October 30, 2023, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has a market capitalization of $1.536 trillion, making it the most valuable internet company in terms of market cap. Moreover, Google dominated the search engine market with a 91% share as of June 2023.
Previous Testimonies from Microsoft and Google
In a previous sitting, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella challenged Google’s claim that it’s easy for users to switch search engines on their devices. Microsoft has struggled to make Bing a viable alternative to Google, even failing to secure a deal with Apple despite offering better terms.
In fact, Microsoft’s Business Development Executive, Jonathan Tinter, told the court that even though they offered Apple a better deal to use Bing, they couldn’t make a deal. Microsoft was even ready to lose a lot of money on this deal. Bing only held 3% of the search engine market share as of June 2023.
Google defended its position by emphasizing the quality of its search services. Pandu Nayak, Google’s Vice President for Search, spoke at the trial about the company’s continuous efforts to improve its search function. He mentioned that Google uses advanced techniques and machine learning to provide accurate and useful search results.
Global Scrutiny: Japan Joins the Fray
In a related move, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) has begun scrutinizing Google’s smartphone app practices. The commission is concerned that Google may have unfairly requested its search apps to be pre-installed on phones, along with specific icon placements. Additionally, it’s suspected that Google struck agreements with Android device makers that prevented them from featuring other search apps, in exchange for a portion of ad revenue generated through Google searches.
In reply, Google’s Japan office said Android users can easily change settings on their phones, including how they use the internet or download apps. The company is also working with government officials to show it offers many choices to users in Japan.