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A judge hears closing arguments in an antitrust case against Google

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Google has been its own verb for years now. The federal government says that's illegal.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Oh, well, not the verb itself, but the search engine. The government's antitrust lawsuit accuses Google of creating an illegal monopoly. You could easily Google the company's response, or for that matter, find it on Bing. The company says they simply have the best search engine.

MARTIN: Closing arguments wrap up today. And NPR tech correspondent Dara Kerr has been following the trial and she's here to tell us more about it. Good morning.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Hello, Michel.

MARTIN: Could you just start by reminding us of what this antitrust lawsuit is all about?

KERR: Yeah. It's hard to downplay just how popular Google search is, right? The company controls about 90% of the global search engine market, so there's no dispute that Google is a monopoly. That in itself is not illegal. But what is illegal is when companies engage in certain practices that ensure no rivals enter the market. And the Justice Department says that is exactly what Google did.

MARTIN: What specifically does the government say Google did to hold onto this monopoly?

KERR: Their case hinges on these exclusive agreements that Google made with device-makers like Apple and Samsung and web browser companies like Mozilla, which runs Firefox. Google pays these companies billions of dollars a year to be the default search engine on their devices. And a lot of people don't even realize Google is the default. The government says these deals make it impossible for competitors to get a leg up. And what that means for consumers like you and me is that we're left with few choices, and Google isn't forced to innovate and make a better product because it's already at the top.

MARTIN: What does Google say?

KERR: Throughout the course of the trial, which lasted 10 weeks, Google said its search engine is superior to all others and that's why it dominates the industry. It also said that if people want to switch to another search engine, they can. They just go into their device's settings, and with a few clicks and swipes they can change the default to DuckDuckGo or Bing or Yahoo.

MARTIN: And tell us about the closing arguments. What have those been like?

KERR: What's been really interesting is that it's not like your courtroom TV drama with lawyers making long speeches. Instead, the judge is going back and forth between the lawyers, asking really pointed questions. He's asking about the technology and legal explanations on how Google is or is not violating the law.

The judge also seemed to be trying to poke holes in both-sides arguments. So when Google said a site like Amazon is its competitor when people search for products to buy, the judge made it clear he didn't think Google and Amazon were comparable. And when the government said Google hasn't kept up with innovating its search engine, the judge disagreed. So the judge has really given no indication on which way he'll side.

MARTIN: Has the judge given any indication or do we have any sense of when the judge might issue his decision?

KERR: Yeah, that is expected in a few months. And if he finds that Google acted illegally, there'll be a separate hearing on how he'd sanction the company. That could be anything from fines to restructuring Google, such as breaking up the company. So this decision has the real potential to change how we experience the internet.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Dara Kerr. Dara, thank you.

KERR: Thanks so much.

MARTIN: And here's where I want to let you know Google is a corporate sponsor of NPR, although we cover them like any other company. 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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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