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As closing arguments in Google's monopoly trial wrap up, other tech giants watch closely


Closing arguments this week in the U.S. government's trial against Google, where the tech company is charged with being an illegal monopoly. The judge's ruling will set a precedent for other antitrust suits against big tech. And let us note that Google is a funder of NPR, but we cover them like anybody else. NPR's tech correspondent, Dara Kerr, has been following the trial. Dara, thanks so much for being with us.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Hi. Thank you.

SIMON: And help us get hold of what this case is about overall.

KERR: Yeah. So, this case is all about Google Search, which controls roughly 90% of the search engine market, so practically everyone uses it. And the government says Google has monopolized this market by making sure it's the default search engine on phones and web browsers. And it's done this by paying companies like Apple and Samsung billions of dollars a year to be that default.

And there are a lot of similarities here to when the government took Microsoft to court back in the '90s. When Microsoft was taken to court, the issue was all about being the default option on desktop computers. The government said that stifled competition, and they won that case. Now lawyers for the Justice Department say Google is following Microsoft's playbook. Here's Sam Weinstein, a former Justice Department lawyer, who's now a professor at Cardozo School of Law.

SAM WEINSTEIN: The DOJ is saying this is the same, right? Google is paying these platforms to become the default and deprive potential rivals of scale.

SIMON: Closing arguments in the case concluded yesterday. What do we come away with as the judge deliberates?

KERR: So it's not illegal to be a monopoly. What's at issue is whether Google abused its monopoly power to keep competitors from getting a toehold. And that would be against the law. Google's lawyers have repeatedly said that the reason Google Search is the most popular is because it's the best, and even though it's the default on many devices, people would still choose it. So essentially, Google is saying it's not its fault that it's a monopoly.

SIMON: Dara, what kind of details came out in closing arguments?

KERR: Well, one new thing was that - that was definitely eye-popping was this week the court unsealed a document that showed just how much Google has paid Apple to be the default search engine on things like iPhones. Both Google and Apple have tried to keep this number under wraps. The document showed that in 2022 alone, Google paid Apple $20 billion to be the default search engine. So we're talking about massive amounts of money that Google is spending here. And the government says this is anti-competitive behavior.

SIMON: The government has brought several more lawsuits against big tech companies for being monopolies, so they must be paying a lot of attention to what this judge rules.

KERR: Yes. The government is targeting all the big ones - Amazon, Facebook, Apple, even another case against Google. This Google trial that just ended is the first of those cases to go to court. So yes, I'm sure all sides are watching to see how the judge rules because his decision could really set precedent for how all of those other lawsuits proceed.

SIMON: Dara, do you have a sense of where this case is heading?

KERR: It is so hard to tell. This was a bench trial, so there was no jury. It's just up to the judge, and the judge hasn't given any clues to how he'll rule. He's expected to issue that ruling within the next few months. And if he finds Google acted illegally, sanctions could include anything from fines to a breakup of the company. As the judge signed off in court yesterday afternoon, he acknowledged all the hard work both sides put into the case, saying, I hope everyone has a vacation planned for tomorrow.

SIMON: NPR's Dara Kerr, thanks so much for being with us.

KERR: Thank you. 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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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.
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