Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice began one of the largest antitrust cases in decades against the popular Internet search engine Google.
The trial, which is likely to last 10 weeks, is being closely watched not only by tech insiders but also by consumers who will ultimately lose if an empowered US Justice Department prevails in breaking up the first of many popular (and free) tech companies relied upon daily by millions worldwide.
Here’s an editorial by a Google executive that explains why the U.S. government and several states attorney generals have been pursuing them since 2020.
Google has helped make the world’s information easily accessible to billions of people engineers work to offer the best search engine possible, making thousands of improvements every year so that we deliver the most helpful results, for free.
Next week we go to trial to defend ourselves against a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice and state attorneys general focused on how we distribute Google Search. As we’ve said from the beginning, this lawsuit is deeply flawed, and we’re pleased that the Court has significantly narrowed it, dismissing claims regarding the design of Google Search.
We plan to demonstrate at trial that our Search distribution agreements reflect choices by browsers and device makers based on the quality of our services and the preferences of consumers. Making it easier for people to get the products they want benefits consumers and is supported by American antitrust law. In sum, people don’t use Google because they have to — they use it because they want to.
Here’s more detail about the choices at the heart of this case:
There are more ways than ever to search for information
Our promotion and distribution of Google Search hasn’t harmed competition or reduced consumer choice. To the contrary, there are more ways than ever to find information today. Just think about how you use the internet — you may look for recommendations on TikTok, Reddit or Instagram, find music and podcasts on Spotify, ask ChatGPT a question, or shop on Amazon. In fact, it’s reported that over 60% of Americans start product searches on Amazon.
Browser and device makers have a choice, and they choose Google
Let’s start with browsers. Browser makers like Apple and Mozilla choose to feature a default search engine. They open competition for the default and pick the best search provider for their users. We compete hard for that placement, so that users can easily access Google Search.
We’re proud that browser makers opt to show Google Search based on the quality of our products. Apple’s leaders have said they choose Google because it’s “the best.” Importantly, our browser agreements are not exclusive. As shown below, Bing and Yahoo! also pay Apple to be featured in Safari, and other rival services appear, too. In short, our success comes down to the quality of our products, not the quantity of our contracts.
Bing and Yahoo! pay Apple to be featured in Safari
Mozilla similarly chooses to show Google as the default search engine in their Firefox browser, and similarly offers promotional opportunities for other search providers like Bing and Yahoo!
When it comes to Android, we offer phone makers the option to preload popular Google services on the device’s home screen for free. We also pay device makers and carriers for additional promotion of services like Chrome and Search, similar to the way a supermarket might charge a cereal brand to promote its products at eye-level on a shelf or at the end of an aisle.
Our promotional agreements on Android are entirely optional. Device makers and carriers can take open-source Android for free and build a phone without ever entering an agreement with Google. And when they do agree to include Google services, it helps their phones compete with Apple’s iPhone and defray their costs, letting them offer a wide range of Android devices, some costing less than $100. Our distribution agreements on Android haven’t harmed competition; they’ve promoted it.
It’s easy to change the default on browsers and on Android
If you prefer an alternative search service, changing the default is easy. As the graphics below illustrate, on the Safari desktop, you can switch the default in two clicks. On an iPhone, it takes four taps. And it takes just two taps to delete the Search widget on Android. That’s all a far cry from the early days of uploading software via CD-ROMs you’d have to buy from the store or doing time-consuming downloads over dial-up connections.
It takes two clicks to change the search engine on Safari desktop
It takes four taps to change the search engine on Safari mobile
It takes two taps to remove the Google search widget on Android
Notably, in 2014 when Mozilla chose to make Yahoo! the default search engine, many people actually switched back to Google. In other words, while default settings matter (that’s why we bid for them), they’re easy to change. People can and do switch.
By contrast, Microsoft preloads its Edge browser on Windows, makes Bing the default search engine, and aggressively makes it much more difficult to switch. Despite this, the overwhelming majority of Microsoft users choose to search with Google. In fact, “Google” is the number one search query on Bing worldwide. Contrary to the DOJ’s theory, people know they have choices, and they make them.
The same is true for smartphones. It’s easy to download apps — you probably do it all the time. Some of the most popular apps like Spotify, Instagram, TikTok, Uber and Amazon aren’t preloaded on mobile devices. (And some that are preloaded don’t do so well.)
The bottom line is that success doesn’t come from preloading — it comes from innovation and offering helpful products that people want to use.
Search Ads 360 facilitates ad campaigns on Bing, Yahoo! and others
Finally, even though we’ve built a tool that makes it easier for advertisers to manage campaigns on multiple platforms — some state attorneys general claim that we should have built SA360 to include more features for Microsoft ads as fast as Microsoft wanted, instead of prioritizing the demands from our customers. American law doesn’t require putting the preferences of your competitors over those of your clients. And Microsoft, which has plenty of resources, has chosen not to build its own search engine management tool.
A backward-looking case at a time of unprecedented innovation
This lawsuit simply ignores how intensely competitive and dynamic the technology industry is today. Just look at the rapid AI advances across the industry (including Microsoft’s investment in AI, in search, Amazon and Apple’s growing success in digital ads, or the ever-growing number of apps people use to find information like ChatGPT, TikTok and Wikipedia).
Meanwhile, we’re not standing still: We invest billions of dollars in R&D and make thousands of quality improvements to Search every year to ensure we’re delivering the most helpful results. This competition benefits consumers by giving them better, more innovative services.
We respectfully disagree with those who want to change antitrust law to promote the welfare of competitors rather than consumers. We put people first, and focus on getting them the services they need to find high-quality information easily and quickly. We look forward to making our case in court.
Kent Walker is President of Global Affairs, Google & Alphabet