In a significant development in two antitrust lawsuits against Google, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has dismissed some claims while allowing others to proceed to trial.
The lawsuits, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Attorneys General of 38 states, accuse Google of anti-competitive practices that violate Section 2 of the Sherman Act.
Google declared partial victory, as the court dismissed allegations related to the design of Google Search.
Kent Walker, Google’s President of Global Affairs & Chief Legal Officer, responded to the court’s decision:
“We appreciate the Court’s careful consideration and decision to dismiss claims regarding the design of Google Search… We look forward to showing at trial that promoting and distributing our services is both legal and pro-competitive.”
Continuing To Trial
Central to the antitrust battle is Google’s distribution agreements that lock in its search engine as the default on browsers like Apple’s Safari and Android devices.
The Attorneys General allege that Google’s agreements harm specialized vertical providers (SVPs) in two key ways:
- First, they allege Google has limited the visibility of SVPs on its search engine results page, making it harder for users to find and access their content.
- Second, Google has required SVPs to provide their data and content to Google on terms that are no less favorable than what Google provides to other companies. This puts SVPs at a disadvantage compared to Google’s partners.
In District Judge Amit Mehta’s 60-page report, he ruled there were enough factual disagreements over whether this practice is anti-competitive and exclusionary. He says the issues should go to trial for further examination.
On claims of Google disfavoring specialty search sites, Mehta writes:
“Simply put, there is no record evidence of anti-competitive harm in the relevant markets resulting from Google’s treatment of SVPs.”
Allegations around Google steering search advertising dollars through restricting competitors’ access to Android remained intact.
A Closer Look At The Allegations
The court rejected Google’s attempt to avoid a trial on the central allegations.
These center on Google’s exclusive contracts with web browser developers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of Android devices.
The DOJ and state Attorneys General contend that Google’s deals with web browser developers, such as Apple and Mozilla, and Android device manufacturers ensure that Google is the default search engine across multiple devices.
They argue that this practice stifles competition, a contention that Google denies.
Plaintiffs argue that default status impacts a search engine’s usage, while Google maintains that users can change the default search engine on their devices.
Judge Mehta ruled that disputes about the facts of these allegations require a trial to resolve.
The outcome of these proceedings could reshape the digital advertising market, as these lawsuits challenge the monopolistic dominance Google holds in search and online advertising.
The court’s decision to proceed to trial marks a milestone in the ongoing legal battle over Google’s market dominance.
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