Google’s Antitrust Loss to Epic Could Preview Its Legal Fate in 2024

Google’s loss was swift after a monthlong antitrust trial in a San Francisco federal court. A little more than three hours after a jury had begun deliberating on Monday, they returned with their verdict.

There were 11 antitrust claims that Epic Games, the maker of the hit videogame Fortnite, had brought against Google’s Play Store for Android mobile devices, and the jury found Google to be at fault in every one of them.

It was the first test of how Google might fare in the antitrust gauntlet it faces in the United States — and the company was routed. The courtroom loss could portend Google’s legal fate in two, more significant antitrust cases in the United States that could weaken the world’s most influential internet business and reshape the tech industry for years to come.

Google will learn more about the direction the cases will take next year. In San Francisco, Judge James Donato of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California will decide early in the year how Google should be punished for what the jury found to be anticompetitive conduct with its app store.

Google and the Justice Department are expected to make closing arguments in May in a separate antitrust trial in Washington D.C., that focused on Google’s overwhelmingly popular search engine. And the company still faces another antitrust trial, regarding its online ad business, in a federal court in Virginia.

By the end of 2024, Google could be staring down significant changes to how it operates, and years of appeals in courtrooms around the country.

“It’s a period of massive uncertainty for Google, where they’re not sure what their business practices are going to look like in two or three years,” Sam Weinstein, a former Justice Department antitrust lawyer who is now a professor at the Cardozo School of Law, said in an interview.

The cases are part of a broader regulatory backlash against large technology companies, from regulators and lawmakers around the world who believe the giants have too much power over commerce, politics and daily life. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, already seized on Monday’s verdict to boost her legislative efforts to rein in Big Tech.

“We must take the next step in Congress to finally update our consumer laws for the digital age,” she said in a statement.

Google plans to appeal the verdict and will “continue to defend the Android business model,” Wilson White, a Google vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. He added that the trial had “made clear that we compete fiercely with Apple and its App Store, as well as app stores on Android devices and gaming consoles.”

Here is a rundown of the antitrust lawsuits facing Google:

The nine-person federal jury in San Francisco found that Google had undermined competition in the mobile-app ecosystem in three key ways: by monopolizing two markets, its Play Store and mobile billing system; imposing unreasonable restraints of trade on players in those markets; and tying together the two offerings so other businesses had to use both of them.

Google and Epic will return to court in the second week of January to lay out their cases for what changes Google should be forced to make to improve competition on the Play Store. Though Google has already vowed to appeal the decision, Mr. Weinstein said it was likely that Judge Donato would look to open up the app store, potentially giving Android users more choices in how to download and pay for apps.

Google’s trial with the Justice Department and dozens of states over its search engine and search advertising practices took place mostly in the fall, but closing arguments are scheduled for the beginning of May.

The case focused on whether Google unfairly used its clout and billions of dollars to give its search engine an unfair advantage over far less popular competitors. Judge Amit P. Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who will render a verdict, said at the end of the trial that he had no idea how he was going to rule in the case.

If Judge Mehta sides with the Justice Department, the government could ask for a range of remedies, including offering consumers an easier way to decide which search engine they would like to use and calling for Google’s search distribution platforms, such as the Chrome web browser or Android operating system, to be spun off from the company.

A federal judge in Virginia is considering a separate Justice Department lawsuit accusing Google of illegally abusing its power over the technology that delivers ads online.

Google makes tools that publishers use to sell ads on their websites, ones that marketers use to place ads and digital auction systems that act as intermediaries between both parties.

The Justice Department has argued that Google should be forced to divest this display-ad business. A trial in the case could begin as soon as next year..

The European Commission in June charged Google with violating antitrust laws by using its dominance in online advertising to undercut rivals, echoing the case in Virginia. The European authorities have already fined Google more than 8 billion euros, or $8.6 billion, over what they say are antitrust violations related to its Android mobile operating system, shopping service and another advertising business. All those cases are waiting on appeals from Google.

Adam Satariano and David McCabe contributed reporting.

Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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