Google faces its biggest antitrust threat yet

Like any of us in hour four of a Monopoly game, the US government wants to put an end to it all. 

Driving the news: Google heads to court today, kicking off the biggest US antitrust case in the modern internet era. 

  • The US Department of Justice (DOJ) alleges that Google has used what it describes as “monopoly” power to kill competition by paying billions of dollars to Apple and other companies to make its search engine the default on pretty much every device and browser.

Why it’s happening: Google has a 90% market share in US search, which the DOJ claims allows them to destroy rivals before they get big enough to threaten the search engine’s dominance.

  • The DOJ will likely argue in court that the scarcity of competition coupled with Google’s lack of incentive to innovate has harmed consumers, a key criteria that US courts have generally decided must be met for a company to lose an antitrust case.

  • Google says that its agreements with companies like Apple don’t stop them from promoting competitors' search engines, arguing that its search tool is simply chosen to be the default because it offers the “highest quality” for users. 

Why it matters: Google became a US$1.7 trillion empire by positioning itself as the place to go for answers on the internet. If the company loses the case—and with it, its status as the default search engine on the world’s most-used devices and browsers—it will have lost a critical edge over competitors.

Zoom out: A win by the DOJ against Google will also set a precedent for tougher antitrust enforcement in the future which would ripple across the rest of the tech sector.—LA