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CEO Sundar Pichai defends Google's search deals in antitrust trial

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

All right. We're a couple of months into a huge and complicated monopoly trial against Google.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah, the Justice Department has laid out its case, now it's Google's turn. One of the first witnesses it called was its CEO.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's tech correspondent Dara Kerr was in the courtroom. Dara, so what did the Google CEO say?

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Hello. So Sundar Pichai has been at Google for nearly 20 years, and now he's the CEO of both Google and its parent company, Alphabet. He has a long history working with Google's search engine business, which was the meat of his testimony. What we've learned over the course of the trial is that Google has made deals with all sorts of companies to ensure that its search engine is the default on computers and phones. In his testimony, Pichai said this is critical for the company business. He said Google realized early on how important search is to bringing people online and increasing people's online activity. Of course, with more people online using Google Search, the company makes more money. So the government says the way Google does that is an abuse of its power as a monopoly. Google has around 90% share of the search market.

MARTÍNEZ: So how does it do that? How does it have such dominant in that market?

KERR: What's been really remarkable with this trial is hearing about how all of these massively powerful companies do business. At the center of this case are these deals where Google pays billions of dollars a year to device makers and web browser companies. What we learned last week during trial and then came up again yesterday is that in 2021, Google paid $26 billion to enter these deals. Pichai said the central goal with these deals is to make Google's service better for users. During his testimony, he said, quote, "we want to make it very, very seamless and easy to use our services." But the Justice Department says the deals can actually degrade the search experience for people.

MARTÍNEZ: Why does the government say that what Google is doing is illegal?

KERR: The Justice Department alleges that because Google dominates the market and pays to stay there, other companies can't come in and compete. They're basically frozen out. Most people don't even know they're being directed to Google search engine when they type something in their iPhone or Android phone. The government also says that when a company gets as big as Google and becomes a monopoly, it's no longer forced to innovate. So what that means for consumers is we're stuck with whatever Google creates.

During the trial, we've heard testimony from smaller search engines, like DuckDuckGo, which have said it's impossible to compete with Google when they have these default agreements. So theoretically, there could be a better search engine out there, but we wouldn't know since it's too difficult to enter the market.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. Now, there's a lot going on for Google in this trial and it could have massive implications. How long is this trial expected to go?

KERR: Yeah, Google is planning to call at least 10 witnesses and is expected to wrap its defense within the next three weeks, then the Justice Department will have a chance for rebuttal. So this is a bench trial. There's no jury and the judge will make the final decision. If he sides with Google, the company carries on as usual. If the judge goes with the government, that could mean anything from fines to putting an end to those exclusive agreements, and that could have a huge impact on Google's bottom line.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Dara Kerr. Thanks a lot.

KERR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROKE FOR FREE'S "SOLITUDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr is a tech reporter for NPR. She examines the choices tech companies make and the influence they wield over our lives and society.