The antitrust case centered on Google and is the first federal trial to focus exclusively on whether internet search engines should be prohibited from precluding websites from appearing first in their results. A hearing to determine the case’s venue began on Tuesday, Oct. 23, and it is slated to continue through Dec. 17. Here’s what to watch for:
What does Google’s history of search bias tell us about its behavior today?
Over the past decade, Google has tried to organize the internet, first with its hyperlinked content-search site and then with search results by establishing itself as the go-to source for information. Most web searches in the U.S. are done through Google, but an increasingly large portion — for one and two-word words (though fewer often than 10 per year, for millions) — are still conducted on sites beyond Google. Over the years, however, these webpages have had trouble living up to the lofty expectations they set for themselves. Thousands of pages with little or no information exist on competing sites. Although there are many sites in existence to help customers find the information they need faster, it may also be hard to find the information online than in search engines.
What are the big questions about Google’s conduct from the case?
On Monday, Nov. 6, The New York Times will publish two new detailed articles covering the case’s various aspects. Here’s a preview:
Privacy questions hover over the case, and it’s expected to involve Google’s search history. The questions about privacy come on top of many already raised by the case itself, which includes product bundling disputes with phone makers and distributors and web search bias. There is also broad concern that Google will charge others to have their stories and other content included in its preferred organic search. Many have raised privacy and antitrust issues around any and all search results that exclude an entire page.
A case that could bring dramatic, global changes in the internet search market
Until recently, the search market has been dominated by Google, with the company having at least 90 percent market share in the U.S. and about 80 percent worldwide. Some industry observers say that scale of dominance in the industry — and the deep personal data Google has on its users — means that the company would have the ability to make the changes needed to drive a competitive market for search results in the future. A loss for Google in the suit could influence how big companies and platforms monetize their websites. A win for Google, on the other hand, would be another signal that the company will continue to dominate.
Should we be worried about the outcome of the case?
A lot of companies, and not just internet search engines, want their content in the top spot when a user searches for something online. Nearly all companies have their own apps, for customers who will access their information in those apps, or include their own comparison shopping sites in their sites. While consumers might have an easy time, for the most part, finding the information they want online, they don’t want it presented in any uni-directional fashion that restricts how they find it.
This case will be the first of its kind in this country. Google’s opponents in the case, which include Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook, have asked the court to evaluate whether there needs to be a set of standards to create uniform standards across the web. This would be a big step toward ensuring that everyone is treated fairly in the search industry. (Users in other countries currently have lower standards when they look up information online.)
After a long, contentious process, the top court in the European Union recently ruled in favor of having tech giants provide information to make search results uniform. The ruling was seen as a result of British courts finding an unhealthy trend of favoring Google and one other search engine (later, it was determined that the other was Bing).
Google is represented by the firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in the case. Microsoft is a civil plaintiff in the case, while Yahoo and Facebook are non-civil plaintiffs, with the companies representing themselves in court. You can expect the closely watched case to reach a conclusion in 2019, once the procedural deadlines have passed. You can also watch for how Google adapts to the new ruling when it comes time to license and engage in advertising.