by diane bartz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Verizon executive was questioned by the U.S. Justice Department on Monday regarding the company’s choice to always pre-load Google’s Chrome browser with Google Search on its mobile phones, as the government attempts to demonstrate that Alleging that Alphabet’s Google violated antitrust laws to maintain its market dominance in online search.
Brian Higgins, a Verizon veteran of 28 years who was part of the team that negotiated the deal with Google to select software for preloading on the carrier’s phones from 2017 to 2023, provided testimony in a federal court in Washington: “To the best of my understanding, I believe it is pre-installed at all times.”
The government argues that Google’s annual $10 billion payments to mobile carriers and other entities helped the California-based tech giant secure a powerful default position on smartphones and other devices, granting it access to valuable data from other profitable aspects of its business, such as online advertising.
During the first week of one of the largest antitrust trials in the U.S. in decades, James Kolotouros, the Google executive responsible for negotiating the company’s agreements with Android device manufacturers and carriers, gave testimony that Google compelled Android smartphone makers to utilize Google as the default search engine and to have other apps already installed on their devices.
Antonio Rangel, a professor of behavioral biology at the California Institute of Technology, testified last week that individuals are likely to stick with default options like search engines or map apps on computers and mobile phones. This would explain why Google would be willing to pay for the default, or preferred, position in order to secure more search inquiries and generate greater advertising revenue.
In response, Google lawyer John Schmidtlin presented the court with data indicating that users willingly engage with Google’s search engine when it is pre-installed on their devices, but gravitate away from those they prefer less. We do.
One aspect of Google’s defense is that its significant market share reflects the quality of its product, rather than any illicit acts to establish a monopoly in certain segments of its business.
The outcome of the antitrust battle could reshape the future of the Internet, which is currently dominated by four major players that have faced scrutiny from both Congress and antitrust enforcers since the Trump administration. These companies have defended themselves by emphasizing that their services are either free, as in the case of Google, or affordable, as in the case of Amazon.com.
If Google is found guilty of violating the law, US District Judge Amit Mehta, who is presiding over the case, will determine the appropriate course of action. He may order Google to cease any illegal practices or even mandate the divestiture of Google’s assets.
(Reporting by Dianne Bartz; Editing by Paul Simao)