On Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified in a major antitrust case, defending his company’s decision to pay Apple and other tech companies to implement Google as the default search engine on their devices.
As ABC News reports, the case was brought by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which claims that Google has been paying off rival tech companies to shut out alternative search engines so that Google can remain the top search engine in the world. These payments amounted to over $26 billion in 2021, the same year that operating expenses for Google’s parent company, Alphabet, were approximately $68 billion.
But Pichai insisted that Google’s dominance as the top search engine was not due to such payments, and instead because “we are working very, very hard for any given query we provide the best experience. That’s always been our true north.”
Pichai also defended the practice of implementing Google on other devices, claiming that it provided a “seamless and easy” experience for users, while also insisting that the payments themselves were meant to incentivize security upgrades and other improvements to the devices themselves.
Pichai, an Indian immigrant, previously worked for the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. before joining Google in 2004, where he helped develop Google Chrome, which remains both Google’s most popular browser and the world’s most popular browser. He became CEO in 2015, and is also CEO of Alphabet, the parent company which oversees Google, YouTube, and other subsidiaries. From 2016, the first year of Alphabet’s operation, to 2022, Alphabet’s net income skyrocketed from $19.5 billion to over $60 billion.
Whenever Google’s search engine is utilized, Google makes money from the advertisements that users click on during search results. This revenue is then shared with Apple and any other companies that have made Google their default search engine.
The government’s antitrust lawsuit claims that Google was afraid of the possibility of Apple developing its own search engine as a competitor, and thus sought to pay off Apple to avoid such a move. A 2019 email, shown in court, revealed that Pichai asked to be informed whenever a Google employee left to work for Apple.
The case was filed in 2020 during the Trump Administration and has continued under the Biden Administration. The trial itself began on September 12th, in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., and is expected to last for about 10 weeks. The case is being overseen by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who is not expected to issue a ruling until sometime next year. It is the largest antitrust case of its kind since the DOJ targeted Microsoft about 25 years ago, when that company was also accused of dominating the field of internet browsers.