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Connecting decision makers to a dynamic network of information, people and ideas, Bloomberg quickly and accurately delivers business and financial information, news and insight around the world.
Americas+1 212 318 2000
EMEA+44 20 7330 7500
Asia Pacific+65 6212 1000
Former congresswoman Barbara Comstock argues that the DOJ’s case against Google proves that consumers prefer it to all other search engines.
A federal judge has heard all the evidence in the supposedly “landmark” US v. Google LLC antitrust trial. Ten weeks of testimony only showed what we already knew: Consumers love Google search because it out-innovates the competition.
That’s not an antitrust violation, and the Justice Department’s case has cratered. The state’s hand-picked witnesses repeatedly admitted that consumers prefer Google. Why? Because Google has a better search engine, as the public well knows.
Google’s competitors know it, too. Cross-examination of Microsoft Corp.’s CEO, Satya Nadella, brought forward an embarrassing bit of trivia that has long circulated among industry observers: “Google” is the most searched term on Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.
And Mozilla Foundation’s CEO Mitchell Baker testified that Google search is what customers “look for and want and expect.” She would know. Users revolted after Mozilla tried to designate Yahoo! as the default search engine in its Firefox web browser a few years ago. Mozilla then reversed course and abruptly reinstated Google as the default midway through that deal.
Such defaults are a big part of the DOJ’s allegations against Google. But the government has it backwards. Web browsers and devices use Google search as the default because customers love it—not the other way around. One of the DOJ’s own experts said that over 90% of US consumers would select Google given the choice.
The point about choice is key, and many consumers do switch to Google. It takes only a few clicks in a simple settings menu for consumers to change the default search engine. This testimony ruins the DOJ’s pet theory that easy-to-change defaults are somehow holding consumers hostage.
The trial also knocked out the DOJ’s other leading theory. Consumers run a lot of search traffic through Google, but that doesn’t magically give Google a monopoly, either. Just like defaults, Google’s scale is a result of its popularity—not the cause.
Once again, the government’s own witnesses undermined its arguments. Gabriel Weinberg testified that search rival DuckDuckGo, which he founded, already “compete[s]” with Google. Despite its recent vintage, Weinberg’s company has grown significantly for years and has become one of the most popular search engines in the US.
This success confirms that new search engines can attract users if they offer a good product that consumers want. So much for the scale argument. Surely Microsoft, the second largest corporation in the world, and other legacy players can do the same.
Yet the testimony showed that Microsoft chose not to compete. Instead, it asked for a chance as the default on Apple devices so it could “invest more” and “gradually” improve its offerings.
Also, the trial showed that artificial intelligence and social media now vigorously compete with search engines. Testimony established that the competition is growing faster than Google is.
This lawsuit isn’t the smoking gun that the DOJ hoped for. Instead, witnesses backed up the testimony from the government’s own expert: Google built strong brand recognition and loyalty by offering a high-quality search engine.
That quality didn’t come for free. While others dawdled, Google put a lot of early money behind optimizing its algorithms and bringing search to mobile devices. Consumers are the real winners of that investment.
Testimony from Apple’s Eddy Cue summed it up well: “Google still has the best search engine by far.” Antitrust law is supposed to protect consumers, not punish a company for giving them a great product that they love.
Happily for consumers, the DOJ’s lawsuit against Google seems poised to join the Biden administration’s long list of losses.
The case is US v. Google LLC, D.D.C., Docket No. 1:20-cv-03010, 10/20/20.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Barbara Comstock is a former congresswoman and member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and current senior adviser at Baker Donelson and adviser to NetChoice, a trade association that includes Google as a member.
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