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Tuesday, 17 November 2020 09:26

Google anti-trust case likely to fizzle out like a damp squib

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Google anti-trust case likely to fizzle out like a damp squib Pixabay

The anti-trust suit filed by the US against Google in October is unlikely to make any progress, judging by the kind of people whom US president-elect Joe Biden is taking onboard as part of his transition team and also in technology roles.

Eric Schmidt, a former Google chief executive, is being considered to lead a new technology industry task force in the White House. Schmidt, it may be recalled, acted as some kind of tech adviser to failed Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Biden has already given berths on his transition team to Jessica Hertz, a former general counsel at Facebook, and Cynthia Hogan, former Apple vice-president for government affairs.

What makes it even more unlikely that anything will happen to rein in Google is the fact that US district judge Amit Mehta has been chosen to hear the case. Mehta was named to the court by Barack Obama under whom Biden served two terms as vice-president.

The last time the US Department of Justice considered going down the anti-trust path against Google, the company used its influence with the Obama administration to ensure that nothing happened.

For years now, there have been reports that an anti-trust suit was on the horizon, but nothing has eventuated. In May 2018, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin acknowledged that the DoJ needed to take a close look at technology companies like Google that may be monopolies.

A Washington Post report in March 2017 said Google's close ties to the White House had prevented a proposed 2012 probe into the company's alleged unfair competition from going ahead.

The current complaint against Google alleges the company has illegally maintained monopolies in search and search advertising by:

  • Entering into exclusivity agreements that forbid pre-installation of any competing search service;
  • Entering into tying and other arrangements that force pre-installation of its search applications in prime locations on mobile devices and make them undeletable, regardless of consumer preference;
  • Entering into long-term agreements with Apple that require Google to be the default — and de facto exclusive — general search engine on Apple’s popular Safari browser and other Apple search tools; and
  • Generally using monopoly profits to buy preferential treatment for its search engine on devices, Web browsers, and other search access points, creating a continuous and self-reinforcing cycle of monopolisation.

At the time the suit was filed, Google described the DoJ's action as deeply flawed and claimed it would do nothing to help consumers.

A statement issued by Kent Walker, the search company's senior vice-president of Global Affairs, said: "People use Google because they choose to, not because they're forced to, or because they can't find alternatives.

"This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use."

The current US administration has only another 64 days in office before the Biden team is sworn in. Given that, this effort to rein in the company may end as others have – in failure.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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