“Google vs. The DOJ”: The Search Monopoly Trial That Could Reshape the Future of Antitrust

Aleyna Dogan
7 min readSep 12, 2023


Following an exhaustive three-year investigation, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has painstakingly crafted a formidable case against Google — one that might appear deceptively simple but delves into a complex web of allegations. At its core, the accusation is this: the tech giant has illegitimately harnessed its stranglehold on online search to smother competition.

At the heart of this legal saga lies a fundamental question — why does Google control around 90% of the market? Google contends it’s a matter of pure merit, asserting itself as “the best.” The DOJ and a coalition of state attorneys general argue that Google’s supremacy is anchored in a different currency entirely — billions of dollars annually paid to a range of companies, ranging from Apple to Verizon, to secure its place as the default search engine across an overwhelming majority of devices and browsers.

This legal case kicking off today is more than just a court battle; it’s the most significant tech case in a quarter-century. “U.S. et al. v. Google” bears the weight of the U.S. government’s most substantial monopoly challenge since it took Microsoft to task in 1998 for anti-competitive practices.

Yet, what hangs in the balance extends beyond the fate of Google or the trajectory of the search engine market. It’s nothing less than the future of antitrust law in the United States.

As Judge Amit P. Mehta presides over this landmark trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, we venture into the long-standing question: Did Google build its empire by breaking the law?

I. The Arguments

The DOJ’s Argument

The heart of the DOJ’s argument lies in Google’s web of default search engine deals with tech giants like Apple and Samsung. The DOJ’s argument takes a multi-pronged approach, focusing on the consequences of Google’s exclusive agreements.

The tale unfolds as follows: Google secures these agreements, becomes the default search engine, and subsequently amasses an astonishing amount of users and personal data. This data, in turn, refines Google’s search results, thus continuing its dominance with this cycle. In the opening remarks today, Kenneth Dintzer showed the judge parts of an internal Google presentation describing default search agreements as a “powerful strategic weapons” for the company’s search business and “Achilles heel” for competitors like MSN and Yahoo, per NYTimes’ ongoing coverage.

What the DOJ Must Prove

For the DOJ to win, they must demonstrate that Google’s dominance doesn’t stem solely from superior quality but from illicit tactics. They need to expose that Google’s supremacy isn’t just due to having the best product but because it wields power and financial resources to maintain it. In essence, they must demonstrate the impropriety of Google’s default agreements and the substantial costs associated with them, aiming to prove their illegality.

The Arguments in Detail

¹ Google contends that these practices align with standard marketing norms, comparing them to a brand paying for premium shelf space in a supermarket. In Google’s view, this strategy enhances consumer access to what they consider the superior product, ultimately benefiting the end-users.

² These multi-billion-dollar contracts, including an estimated $10–15 billion annually to Apple alone, provide an insurmountable advantage that startups cannot match. Notably, Neeva, a search engine founded by a former Google employee, once valued at $250 million, ceased operations, unable to match Google’s annual payments to keep its default search engine status.

³ Overcoming consumer inertia poses a significant challenge. Even in the event of a DOJ victory, it may not immediately change existing consumer preferences but could create opportunities for new entrants to compete — 80% per DOJ filing.

⁴ OpenAI, a prominent A.I. company, is poised to achieve approximately $1 billion in revenue this year. Conversely, Microsoft’s Bing has experienced limited growth in market share, even following the recent integration of GPT technology.

⁵ It is imperative to consider the perspective of the average user, who may not be aware of the option to change browsers or the potential quality disparities. The design of systems should cater to a broad audience, including those who may not be tech-savvy or early adopters.

II. The Scenarios

The outcomes of this monumental trial are as varied as they are consequential, leaving us to consider two distinct scenarios, each with its own set of implications. One thing to note is the judge won’t consider any next steps unless Google is found liable.

If the DOJ wins

Should the Department of Justice win in this high-stakes battle, it would mark a watershed moment in the halls of antitrust regulation and a huge win for Jonathan Kanter and Lina Khan. The most radical option, though perhaps the least likely, would be the dismantling of Google. A course of action that comes to mind could involve the separation of Google’s search and advertising arms, a strategy aimed at mitigating the harms perpetuated by its alleged monopoly. More likely, the DOJ could bar Google from seeking distribution agreements like the ones it has on iOS and require device manufacturers to ask consumers to choose which search engine they want to use. (like in E.U.)

Google’s internal “code red” regarding Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI underscores the importance of maintaining its supremacy in search. CEO Sundar Pichai himself stated, “Search is still at the core of our mission,” signifying the strategic significance of this facet of their business. Should the DOJ win, the measure of success would not just be in penalties or remedies but in catalyzing a profound transformation in how Google conducts and continues to build its business.

If Google wins

If Google is victorious, it would be a accepted that it hasn’t caused any harm through its practices. Silicon Valley and other tech titans may breathe sighs of relief, perhaps momentarily quelling the anticipation of impending antitrust cases targeting different facets of their operations.

The ripple effects of a Google victory would extend far beyond the courtroom. Google’s already substantial presence in artificial intelligence could gain newfound momentum. As we inch closer to an era where information is the lifeblood of artificial intelligence, Google’s data-rich domain could prove instrumental in securing a leading role in the A.I. arena. Expect artificial intelligence to be a central point in the next 10 weeks.

III. The Broader Picture

This legal suit will question whether laws crafted in the late 19th century can effectively regulate tech giants in the 21st century. If the DOJ succeeds, it could signal a sea of change in how we view and control digital dominance.

As the trial unfolds, the future of competition, innovation, and digital access tremble on the precipice.

Historical Parallels

This trial evokes memories of Microsoft’s antitrust battle, which shook the tech industry in the early 2000s. The argument seems familiar as the Microsoft case focused on Internet Explorer and its dominance as the default browser. Internet Explorer was bundled with Microsoft’s Windows operating system, and installing an alternate browser was technically possible but difficult, so most people didn’t bother. The two sides eventually settled after Microsoft agreed to end certain contracts with P.C. makers that blocked rival software makers. Some tech executives said the Justice Department’s actions made Microsoft more cautious, clearing the way for new entrants like Google.

Monopoly trials have the power to redefine industries, as was the case when AT&T split into regional telecom companies in 1984 due to pressure from the Justice Department. The following transformation shaped the telecommunications sector at the dawn of the mobile era.

As we watch what happens in this case, it will inevitably ask us broader questions. Can century-old laws adapt to govern digital giants? Or will this case underscore the urgent need for modernizing antitrust regulations in the age of the internet?

The tech industry is still a place where the rules are yet to be fully written. The DOJ, armed with existing laws, is pushing the boundaries of their applicability. The outcome of this case could determine whether lawmakers need to revisit, revamp, or even reimagine the laws that govern the digital domain.

You may also read this on Substack.