WASHINGTON: The US Justice Department on Monday (Sep 18) questioned a Verizon executive about the company's decision to always pre-install Google's Chrome browser with Google search on its mobile phones, as the government sought to show that Alphabet's Google broke antitrust law to maintain its dominance in online search.
Brian Higgins, a 28-year Verizon veteran who was on a team from 2017 to 2023 that struck deals with Google to pick software to preload onto the carrier's phones, testified in a federal court in Washington: "To the best of my knowledge, I believe it is pre-installed all the time."
The government argues Google's US$10 billion in payments annually to mobile carriers and others helped the California-based tech giant win powerful default positions on smartphones and elsewhere, which fed data into other lucrative parts of its business, such as online advertising.
In the first week of one of the biggest US antitrust trials in decades, James Kolotouros, a Google executive responsible for negotiating the company's agreements with Android device makers and carriers, testified Google pressed Android smartphone makers to have Google as the default search engine and other apps pre-installed on their machines.
Antonio Rangel, who teaches behavioral biology at the California Institute of Technology, testified last week that people are likely to stick with defaults like search engines or map apps on computers and mobile phones. This would show why Google would want to pay to have the default, or exclusive, position to win more search queries and make higher profits advertising on them.
In response, Google lawyer John Schmidtlein showed the court data indicating that users happily stick with Google's search engine when pre-installed on their devices but switch away from others they like less.
One leg of Google's defence is that its high market share reflects the quality of its product rather than any illegal actions to build monopolies in some aspects of its business.
The antitrust fight could change the future of the internet, now dominated by four giants that have been under scrutiny from Congress and antitrust enforcers since the Trump administration. Companies have defended themselves by emphasizing that their services are free, as in the case of Google, or inexpensive, as in the case of Amazon.com.
If Google is found to have broken the law, US District Judge Amit Mehta, who is deciding the case, will then consider how best to resolve it. He may decide simply to order Google to stop practices he has found to be illegal or he may order Google to sell assets.