Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended the company’s deals to be the default search engine across devices, including Apple products, while testifying Monday at the antitrust trial between the government and the tech giant.
Pichai, the most high-profile witness yet in the 10-week trial, pushed back against allegations that Google’s deals lead to less competition in the market when Google called him to testify as part of their defense, according to multiple reports.
The deals, such as a 2021 agreement with Apple which The New York Times reportedly valued at $18 billion, are a core component of the Department of Justice against Google’s dominance in the online search market.
During his testimony, Pichai reportedly described Google’s investments in its Chrome web browser, underscoring Google’s defense that it did not gain its dominance through illegal anticompetitive behavior but rather due to creating a superior product.
The government, though, along with rivals like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, have called out the default deals as a factor limiting competition throughout the trial which began last month.
The government has questioned why Google pays billions of dollars to maintain its default status while downplaying the value of being the default browser and highlighting how users can change their default browser settings. A slide introduced at the trial last week showed that in 2021 Google paid $23.6 billion to secure default agreements with various partners globally, CNN reported,
Google’s own lawyer posed the question over why Google pays billions to maintain its default search status.
“Making it the default,” Pichai said, according to CNN, “we knew it would lead to increased usage of our products and services. There’s clearly value to that, and that’s what we were looking to do” with Google’s distribution deals.
He also said that there were concerns that Apple would make it more difficult for users to use Google search on its devices and that Google had to pay to make sure that wasn’t the case, The New York Times reported,
“Given that Apple designs the experience, it wasn’t clear how they would change the experience if the financial incentive wasn’t there,” Pichai said, according to the Times.
During Pichai’s testimony, the government also focused on Google’s views on default agreements, and brought up a letter from 18 years ago. The DOJ questioned Pichai over a letter Google’s then-top lawyer David Drummond sent to Microsoft’s then-general counsel on July 22, 2005 about the launch of Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, shortly before Pichai and a team would begin work on Google’s Chrome browser, The Verge reported,
Drummond raised concerns in the letter about a feature in Internet Explorer 7 that would contain a search bar to the right of the URL’s browser. Google at the time argued would lead users to do a search on Microsoft’s own search and limit competition, The Verge reported.
Pichai disputed comparisons between Microsoft’s proposal and Google’s deals; he said that Microsoft raised concerns because it did not adequately inform users of the ability to select different search providers, CNN reported.