In the biggest tech antitrust trial since the Microsoft case of the 1990s, Google CEO Sundar Pichai took the witness on Monday to defend the company. This was a pivotal moment in the US government’s weeks-long attempt to demonstrate that Google has an illegal monopoly on the online search market.
As Google referred to Pichai as a “star witness,” he began his testimony in the US District Court for the District of Columbia by describing how he got to Google from Chennai, India, and how he worked his way up to become the CEO of the tech corporation in 2015.
Pichai explained how Google’s investments in Chrome, its proprietary web browser, enhanced users’ interactions with popular websites and encouraged them to conduct more Google searches while he stood at a podium dressed in a dark suit, a neat white shirt, and a gray tie.Google’s position revolves upon the historical lesson, arguing that its dominance in search is due to users simply choosing Google over rivals rather than the business engaging in criminal activity to secure and maintain its monopoly.
Simply the best?
According to Pichai’s testimony, Google thought it would increase search usage by integrating its search engine seamlessly with the Chrome browser and by providing users with a minimalist design that made more space for web content and search results within a browser window.
Before Google attorney John Schmidtlein showed an internal email from 2010 demonstrating research that users who converted from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer conducted 48% more Google searches, Pichai stated, “The correlation was pretty clear to see.” According to the email, users who moved from Mozilla’s Firefox browser to Chrome conducted 27% more Google searches.
Google’s attempt to refute rivals, such as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who testified last month that Google has stifled competition in search and runs the risk of controlling the artificial intelligence space by training its massive language models on its own controllable search query data, is reflected in Pichai’s testimony.The Google web of contracts, which sets its search engine as the default on millions of devices and browsers worldwide, is the main target of the US government’s lawsuit against the business. For the right to be the default on Apple hardware and software, Google has reportedly paid Apple more than $10 billion annually. A chart shown last week during the trial claims that Google paid $26.3 billion to acquire default agreements with its partners globally in 2021.
Pichai acknowledged that Google pays Apple more for search distribution than it does to any manufacturer of Android handsets. However, he testified that “a big part of the difference” is that Google has separate agreements with telecom carriers and manufacturers of Android smartphones, while Apple “is both the [original equipment manufacturer] and they have control over their telecom channels,” making the Apple figure appear larger.Throughout the trial, one of the main questions has been why, if switching search providers is really as simple as Google says, Google has felt the need to pay Apple and other search distribution partners such substantial sums of money.
When Google’s attorneys directly posed that query to Pichai, he did not hesitate to acknowledge a link between a search engine’s default status and its scale.He stated, “We know it would lead to increased usage of our products and services. Making it the default.” That has evident value, and that’s what we wanted to accomplish with Google’s distribution agreements.
Deals with big tech rivals
In 2016, and again in 2021, Google renegotiated its infamously opaque and profitable deal with Apple, limiting the way Apple may handle search queries that its consumers entered into its products, according to Pichai’s testimony. Google was concerned that Apple might, for example, decide to send some search inquiries to Amazon since Apple selects which queries to transmit to Google and which it attempts to answer with Apple’s own search technology.
Pichai reflected on his 2016 conversations with Apple services director Eddy Cue, saying, “We wanted to make sure that as we contemplate a longer-term deal that the notion of default is implemented in a similar way” moving forward.Later in Pichai’s testimony, the Justice Department attempted to make a comparison between, on the one hand, Google’s vociferous objections to Microsoft seemingly making Bing the default search engine in Internet Explorer and, on the other, its strong desire to be the default search engine for millions of internet users.
According to an exhibit submitted in court, Google sent Microsoft a long letter that year expressing worries about potential difficulties with competition brought up by Microsoft’s behavior.
At the time, Google stated, “We are deeply concerned about the potential of harm to the competitive process from Microsoft’s actions,” reminding Microsoft of its own prior encounters with antitrust authorities.A US government lawyer pushed Pichai on Monday to admit that the letter and other evidence demonstrated Google views search defaults as enormously useful, both in terms of generating revenue and influencing user search behavior in general.
Pichai, however, denied that there could be any similarities between the two circumstances, characterizing Google’s agreements as typical marketing contracts. He said that the reason Microsoft’s approach was concerning was that users were not fully informed that they could choose a different search engine; instead, he claimed, Internet Explorer just imported the user’s previous preference and would default to Bing if the user had not chosen.
A wary eye on Apple
Government attorneys included a 2019 email in which Pichai instructed a subordinate to email him whenever a Google search company employee left to work for Apple in an attempt to demonstrate that Google was afraid of Apple becoming more involved in search.
This particular request was made by Pichai in response to a number of staff exits and the hiring of John Giannandrea, a former Google search executive who joined Apple to manage search operations (and who has also testified in the trial). Apple has testified that, despite considering other options including collaborating with Microsoft on search or even purchasing Bing outright, it has always thought of Google as the greatest search engine for its users.
Without giving a timetable, Pichai admitted before the court in the afternoon that “there have been moments where people at Google have been concerned about Apple as a potential competitor” in search.Pichai testified in relation to the 2019 email exchange that his request, which also included a monthly report on “all losses [of talent] to key competitors,” was an attempt to address requests for assistance from Google’s search team in response to broader concerns about talent loss.With a wry smile, Pichai said he didn’t think he ever got any of the reports he requested.
Pichai took offense at claims made by an attorney for a group of US states that Google may have paid Apple in part to prevent it from entering the search market. He insisted that Google continued to extend the Apple agreement because it was advantageous for both Apple users and Google’s search volume and ad revenues on its own.
Tense dealings with Apple
According to Pichai’s testimony, there hasn’t always been good sailing between Apple and Google. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, and Pichai met in December 2018. (Pichai stated that he and Cook meet approximately once a year to discuss their contract as part of the Apple agreement.) Cook expressed concerns that Apple’s revenue growth, which was a result of the acquisition, did not seem to be keeping up with Google’s.According to a Google report of the almost two-hour discussion that was presented as evidence on Monday, Apple wanted to know what caused the disparity.In essence, Google informed Apple during the discussion that any disparity was probably the result of Apple’s own search engine optimization shortcomings rather than a Google issue.
Google claimed in the summary that Apple controls the volume and kind of the traffic that Safari receives. Google does not.The search agreement was still seen as mutually advantageous by both firms, and Pichai said that Cook seemed “very motivated to work to find a good experience for our joint users,” but the meeting was also at times “tense” and some of the attendees were “nervous” before it began.Pichai suggested at the meeting creating a specific Google app or widget that would be preloaded on Apple’s iOS and enable customers to access Google search directly from their home screens in an effort to ease tensions.
According to the Google account, Cook “listened but did not react to this specifically other than noting we had different strengths.”
Internal Google chats
Google’s handling of internal messages that it knew might be included in future litigation also caused Pichai and US prosecutors to dispute. The DOJ forced Pichai to clarify a corporate policy that, up until this February, automatically erased employee chat communications older than 24 hours in a lengthy exchange. Google’s detractors have identified the technique as apparently evasive on multiple occasions.Pichai told a government attorney that Google’s chat policy was established in 2008 by the company’s legal department before he was became CEO. Pichai concurred, stating that it “was not a change that came to my attention,” in response to the lawyer’s criticism that Pichai did not try to alter the policy after taking the CEO position.
A 2021 chat record between Pichai and his communications assistant was displayed by DOJ at one point. Pichai requested that the chat history be turned off, and nine seconds later, the request was deleted.According to Pichai, he hardly ever requests that chat history be deleted. In this particular instance, he may have been chatting about private information pertaining to a public event he was getting ready for that was connected to Google’s cloud business.