By Trey Price, American Consumer Institute
The Department of Justice’s (DoJ) lawsuit is just getting started. The agency is arguing that Google had positioned itself as the dominant search engine through agreements to make it the default service, creating a de facto monopoly. While Google’s popularity is undeniable, it is also undeniable that consumer preference plays a major role in that popularity.
At the heart of Google’s success is its approach to indexing web pages. Before Google, the biggest search engine was Yahoo which organized search results along fixed categories and indexes, much in the same way a library would organize books. Google, in contrast, indexed webpages by finding links and cross-references in webpages, getting more comprehensive, organic, results without being bound by strict categories like Yahoo. In doing so, Google established themselves as the leading search engine.
In their complaint, the DoJ argued that Google has positioned itself as the biggest search engine by means that violate the Sherman Antitrust Act, a major antitrust law that allows the government to stop anti-competitive concentration in the market. The DoJ claims that by making agreements to establish Google as the default search engine and users’ tendency to not change the search engine from its default settings, Google can functionally control the vast majority of the market and deny competitors access to scale.
The DoJ’s main contention rests on Google’s contracts with other technology companies to make its search engine the default on a wide variety of devices. The DOJ asserts that the public is inclined to stick with the default search engine, failing to recognize what other software is installed on devices, such as Safari and Edge, as well as users’ preference for Google’s web browser software. Microsoft and its browser Microsoft Edge is included with all new Windows PCs, it has a small share of the overall market with 10.33% as of August 2023 where Google Chrome had 59%. Windows PCs have 64.27 of the operating system market, meaning most people with Windows changed the default.
In their response to the lawsuit, Google argued that search engine users and phone manufacturers choose Google and are not coerced into having them as the default. Google also said that when presented with other options for search engines people tended to change to Google.
In 2017 Mozilla opted to return to having Google as its default search engine in part because the change to Yahoo proved unpopular with their user base. Even when another engine is the default many still use it to go to Google as evidenced by the fact that Google remains one of the top searches on Bing.
Additionally, if users want to use a different web browser, the process of changing the default in a phone or other device is simple. At most, it takes four clicks to change the default browser in settings in Safari with Google providing a demonstration on how to do so.
Google’s dominance is not in debate, as the DoJ complaint notes, Google has become so synonymous with searching the internet that it has become a verb to do so in its own right. That popularity, however, does not constitute a crime. By prosecuting Google for its success as a search engine, the DoJ is ignoring consumers’ interests and choosing to protect competitors rather than competition.
Trey Price is a technology policy analyst for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information, visit https://www.theamericanconsumer.org/ or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.