In the landmark U.S. antitrust case against Google, CEO Sundar Pichai testified in defence of the company’s practice of paying Apple and other tech firms to have Google as the default search engine on their devices. Pichai stated that the intention behind these payments was to provide users with a seamless and easy search experience.
The Department of Justice argues that Google’s payments to tech companies are a strategy to stifle competition and innovation by locking out rival search engines. According to court documents entered into the record, these payments exceeded $26 billion in 2021, a year in which Google’s parent company, Alphabet, had operating expenses of nearly $68 billion.
Google’s defence rests on the claim that it dominates the market because its search engine offers a superior user experience compared to its competitors. Pichai emphasised Google’s commitment to providing the best search experience for users.
Sundar Pichai, originally from India, joined Google in 2004 and played a pivotal role in developing Google Chrome, the world’s most popular web browser. He became CEO in 2015 and also holds the position of CEO at Alphabet. Under his leadership, Google’s net income grew from $19.5 billion in 2016 to $60 billion in the past year.
Pichai testified that Google’s payments to phone manufacturers and wireless companies aimed to incentivise them to make essential security upgrades and device improvements. These payments were not solely intended to secure Google as the default search engine but to enhance the overall user experience.
Google’s revenue model benefits from these deals because it earns money from user clicks on advertisements in its search results and shares the revenue with companies like Apple that choose Google as their default search engine.
The Justice Department presented evidence to suggest that Google was concerned that Apple might create its own search engine and that it feared losing talent to Apple. In a 2019 email presented in court, Pichai requested direct notification whenever a member of Google’s search engine team left for Apple.
This antitrust case, the most significant since the U.S. government’s pursuit of Microsoft’s dominance in internet browsers 25 years ago, was initiated in 2020 during the Trump administration. The trial began on September 12 and is expected to last for 10 weeks in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
The majority of the case’s testimony has been conducted behind closed doors, and significant evidence has been redacted to protect trade secrets, as requested by Google and Apple.
The ruling in the case is not expected until early next year. If Google is found to have violated antitrust laws, a subsequent trial will determine measures to address its market power, which may include preventing payments to make Google the default search engine on various devices.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also testified, emphasising the strong hold Google has on users, comparing using Google to a habitual morning routine. He suggested that changing the default search engine on devices is the primary way to break this habit.