Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies in Google’s antitrust trial


Washington
CNN

Google CEO Sundar Pichai took the stand Monday to defend the search giant in the biggest tech antitrust trial since the Microsoft case in the 1990s, marking a culminating moment in the U.S. government’s weeks-long effort to prove that Google has a monopoly on the online search market. illegal. .

Pichai, described by Google as a star witness, opened his testimony in the US District Court for the District of Columbia by recounting his journey from Chennai, India, to Google and his path to becoming CEO of the tech company in 2015.

Standing on stage wearing a dark suit, white shirt and gray tie, Pichai described how Google’s investments in Chrome, its web browser, have accelerated users’ experiences with popular websites and prompted them to perform more searches on Google.

The history lesson is central to Google’s defense that the company’s dominance in search is due to people who prefer Google because it is better, and not because it acted illegally with the aim of gaining and maintaining a monopoly.

By making Google’s search engine a seamless part of Chrome, and by offering users a simple design that provided more space for search results and web content within the browser window, Google believed it would lead to increased search usage, Pichai testified.

“The correlation was pretty clear,” Pichai said, before Google lawyer John Schmidtlin presented an internal email from 2010 outlining research that users who switched from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser conducted 48% more searches on Google. Mozilla Firefox users who switched to Chrome conducted 27% more searches on Google, the email said.

Pichai’s testimony represents Google’s attempt to refute claims by competitors including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who… Saw last month That Google has thwarted competition in search and risks dominating the AI ​​sector by training its large language models on search query data it controls.

The US government’s case against Google focuses on the company’s web of contracts that make its search engine the default on millions of devices and browsers around the world. Google has paid Apple an estimated $10 billion a year to be the default on Apple hardware and software. In 2021, Google paid $26.3 billion to secure virtual agreements with its partners around the world, according to a slide presented at the trial last week.

Pichai acknowledged that Google pays Apple more money in default search payments than it pays any Android phone maker for search distribution, but “a big part of the difference” is that Google has separate deals with Android smartphone makers and companies. communications, while Apple’s is both [original equipment manufacturer] They have control over their own communications channels, which makes Apple’s personality appear larger, he testified.

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A key question throughout the trial was why Google saw fit to pay Apple and other search distribution partners such large sums if it was as easy as Google claims for users to switch search providers.

When Google’s lawyers asked this question directly, Pichai was not shy about acknowledging a link between a search engine’s default status and its increased volume.

“By making it the default, we know it will drive increased usage of our products and services. There’s clearly value to that, and that’s what we were looking to do” through Google’s distribution deals, he said.

As Google has renegotiated its lucrative but opaque contract with Apple over the years — in 2016 and again in 2021 — Google has moved to limit how Apple handles search queries its users enter into its products, Pichai testified. Because Apple chooses which queries it refers to Google, which it seeks to answer through Apple’s search technology, Google feared that Apple would, for example, decide to send some search queries to Amazon.

“We wanted to make sure that as we think about a long-term deal that the idea of ​​a default is implemented in a similar way” in the future, Pichai said, reflecting on his negotiations with Apple services chief Eddy Cue in 2016.

Later in Pichai’s testimony, the Justice Department attempted to draw contrasts between Google’s strong desire to be the default search engine for millions of Internet users and its explicit objections to Microsoft appearing to make Bing the effective default search engine in Internet Explorer.

That year, Google sent Microsoft a lengthy letter outlining concerns about potential competition issues raised by Microsoft’s practices, according to a document filed with the court.

“We are deeply concerned about the potential harm to the competitive process from Microsoft’s actions,” Google wrote at the time, reminding Microsoft of its previous run-ins with antitrust regulators.

On Monday, a US government lawyer pressed Pichai to acknowledge how the letter and other examples proved that Google considers default search settings to be very valuable — both financially and in terms of incentivizing user search behavior more generally.

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But Pichai questioned any potential similarities between the two situations, describing the Google deals as standard promotional agreements. He suggested that Microsoft’s practices raised concerns because it did not adequately inform users of their opportunity to choose a different search provider; Instead, he said, Internet Explorer simply imported the user’s previous preferences, and if the user didn’t make the choice, it defaulted to Bing.

Government lawyers sought to prove that Google feared Apple’s greater involvement in search, pointing to a 2019 email in which Pichai asked a subordinate to email him any time an employee from Google’s search business left to work for Apple.

This specific request came as Pichai noticed the departures of several employees and the hiring efforts of John Giannandrea, the former Google search executive who went on to oversee Apple’s search efforts (and who He also testified at trial). Apple has testified that it has always viewed Google as the best search engine for its users, even as it considered alternatives such as partnering with Microsoft in search or even buying Bing outright.

In the afternoon, Pichai admitted to the court: “There were moments when people at Google were concerned about Apple as a potential competitor” in search, without indicating any specific time frame.

Regarding the 2019 email exchange, Pichai testified that his request — which also called for a monthly report of “all losses.” [of talent] “To Key Competitors” – was an attempt to respond to calls for help from the Google search team amid more general concerns about losing talent.

Pichai added sarcastically that he did not believe he received any of the reports he requested.

Pichai expressed anger at suggestions by a lawyer representing a group of US states that Google may have paid Apple in part to keep it out of the search market, saying instead that Google kept renewing the Apple agreement because the deal was itself beneficial to Google Search. Volume and advertising revenue as well as for Apple users.

Pichai testified that the relationship between Apple and Google was not always completely smooth. In December 2018, Pichai met with Apple CEO Tim Cook. (Pichai said that as part of the Apple agreement, he and Cook meet almost annually to discuss their deal.) On the agenda: Cook’s concerns that Apple’s revenue growth tied to the deal appears to be not keeping pace with Google’s concerns.

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Apple wanted to know what caused the difference, according to a Google summary of the roughly two-hour meeting that was entered into evidence on Monday.

Google essentially told Apple in the meeting that any discrepancy was likely due to Apple’s failures in search and not Google’s fault.

“Google does not control the amount or type of traffic Safari receives; Apple does,” Google argued in the meeting, according to the summary.

Although the two companies continued to view the search deal as mutually beneficial, and Cook seemed “very eager to work on creating a good experience for our mutual users,” Pichai testified, the meeting was also “tense” at times and some participants were “nervous.” “Head to him.

To help make things easier, Pichai suggested during the meeting creating a custom Google app or widget to be preloaded on Apple’s iOS that could allow users to access Google Search directly from their home screens.

Google’s summary said Cook “listened but did not specifically engage with this other than to point out that we have different strengths.”

US prosecutors also clashed with Pichai over Google’s handling of internal communications that she learned could end up being included in future lawsuits. In an extended exchange, the Justice Department pushed Pichai to explain a company policy that, until last February, automatically deleted employee chat messages older than 24 hours. This has been the practice They are repeatedly tagged like Allegedly evasive By Google’s critics.

Pichai explained to a government lawyer that Google’s chat policy was established in 2008 by the company’s legal team before he became CEO. The lawyer noted that Pichai made no effort to change the policy when he became CEO; “It wasn’t a change that caught my attention,” Pichai agreed.

At one point, the Justice Department showed a 2021 chat log involving Pichai and his communications assistant, in which he requested that the chat log be stopped, before deleting that request nine seconds later.

Pichai said he rarely, if ever, asked to deactivate his chat history, and that in this case the chat conversation could have included personal information related to a public event related to Google’s cloud business that he was preparing for.

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