WASHINGTON, Sept 18 (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Monday objected to removing members of the public from the courtroom during some discussions about how Google prices online ads, one of the issues at the center of an ongoing antitrust trial in Washington.
The government is trying to show that Alphabet’s Google ( GOOGL.O ) violated antitrust laws to maintain its dominance in online search. Search dominance led to rapidly increasing ad revenue, making Google a $1 trillion company.
David Dahlquist, speaking for the government, pointed to a redacted document that summarized Google’s back-and-forth on pricing for search ads.
Talkist argued to Judge Amit Mehta, who is presiding over the case, that information such as that contained in the document should not be redacted. “It satisfies the public interest because it’s at the heart of the DOJ case against Google,” he said.
John Schmittlin, who spoke for Google, insisted that all discussions on pricing be in a closed session, meaning the public and the press must leave the courtroom.
It is not uncommon for tests to incorporate information such as market share and business and pricing strategies.
In some cases, the redundancies are broad because companies prefer to withhold information, and government lawyers fighting mergers are more willing to win than worry about oversealing, said Katherine Van Dyck. American Economic Freedom Project.
“Litigation is a very difficult process,” he said.
His organization has pushed to put the trial over the phone because of the pre-trial hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Justice Mehta rejected the petition.
Van Dijk believes Mehta’s call was wrong.
“When you have these cases of massive, broad public interest and public import, the courts have to take that into account and adapt their rules and do a better job of keeping up with modern technology,” he said.
A case in point was testimony from Verizon ( VZ.N ) executive Brian Higgins earlier Monday about the company’s decision to pre-install Google’s Chrome browser with Google Search on its mobile phones.
After about 30 minutes of testimony, Higgins’ testimony was closed for the next two hours.
He may have been asked about Google paying for Verizon but the public will never know. Those payments — which the government said totaled $10 billion annually to mobile carriers and others — helped the California-based tech giant win powerful defaults in smartphones and elsewhere.
Throughout the trial, Google’s defense was that its high market share reflected the quality of its product rather than any illegal activities to create monopolies in certain aspects of its business.
The fight against antitrust, now dominated by four giants that have come under scrutiny from Congress and antitrust enforcers from the Trump administration, could change the future of the Internet. Companies have defended themselves by insisting that their services, like Google, are free, or as cheap as Amazon.com ( AMZN.O ) .
If Google is found to have violated the law, Judge Mehta, who will rule on the case, will consider how to resolve it. He can order Google to stop practices he finds illegal or order Google to sell assets.
Report by Diane Bartz; Editing by Paul Simao and Nick Zieminski
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