A major landmark antitrust trial is set to begin in the US, targeting Google. The case was filed in December 2020 by the Justice Department and eleven states, accusing Google of maintaining its stranglehold on the search market through deals with smartphone manufacturers and Internet browser creators. This, says the Justice Department, has made Google the default search engine almost everywhere. These deals often include provisions preventing partners from installing rival search engines. Google's legal troubles poin to a major shift in the regulatory approach towards tech giants. For years, major tech companies went on an expansion spree without much constraint, but now they face multiple antitrust investigations. The outcome of the Google case will have far-reaching implications extending beyond online advertising and search engines, particularly in the realm of AI technologies.
Google's huge market share—nearly ninety percent of US general search queries—led the US government to label it a "gatekeeper for the internet." The US government argues that Google's monopoly profits allow it to perpetuate its dominance through these deals, leading to a cycle of control and profit.
Google defends saying that its market dominance is the result of offering a superior product. The company argues that users have a choice and so they choose Google. Unlike the Microsoft case in 1998, where most users preferred Netscape, Google claims that consumers genuinely prefer its search engine. Google also says that it's easy for users to switch to alternative search engines if they desire, such as Bing or DuckDuckGo.
AI-based search sites like Neeva, which seek to challenge Google's dominance with AI-powered search, faced difficulties attracting users due to Google's dominance. The verdict in the Google case could determine the future of online search and the emerging AI-driven search technologies.
The Google antitrust case is reminiscent of the Microsoft case in 1998, when the software giant faced an antitrust lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice and twenty states. Microsoft was accused of engaging in anti-competitive practices in both the computer operating systems and Internet browser markets.