The first big tech trial in decades is underway as the Department of Justice takes Google to court, arguing it abused power as a monopoly to dominate the search engine business.  

According to Virginia Tech expert James Ivory, the case hinges on claims that Google illegally orchestrated business dealings so that its search engine would be people’s first option on their devices. “The argument is not simply that Google has a monopoly in these markets, but that its contracts with Apple and mobile phone providers constitute illegal anti-competitive behavior,” says Ivory.

The case is widely described as the most notable antitrust case in the United States since the Department of Justice accused Microsoft of using technical requirements to engage in similar behavior in 1998. “This isn’t anomalous. Google has been under scrutiny and allegations from the Department of Justice regarding antitrust behavior for 15 years or more,” says Ivory.   

Ivory explains that part of the importance and interest in this case is that there is not a confident consensus on how it will go—even among those with strong opinions about how it should go.

What’s at stake?

“The immediate implications of the case will affect the extent to which Google can engage in dealings with other companies to limit competition and other anti-competitive practices,” says Ivory, but he believes the true impact of the case will be on other regulations of massive tech companies. “The case against Google may set precedents that determine how tech giants are or are not allowed to maintain their domination of markets in the future.”

Ivory expects there to be more cases brought to trial. “The Federal Trade Commission has already accused Facebook of antitrust practices and other Google products such as Google Maps and the Google Play store may have to answer to the DOJ as well.”

Why should the consumer care?

“While opinions vary on how and to what extent the monopoly power of big tech companies should be limited, court decisions about the regulation of big tech companies affect each and every one of us in our daily lives whether we know—or care,” says Ivory.

The Department of Justice’s argument is that Google is not only dominating the market, but engaging in practices that stifle competition in violation of antitrust laws. “A user might want to ensure that the online playing field allows the possibility for a superior product, or even a product that is not superior to Google but serves a valuable niche,” says Ivory. “Even if you are extremely happy using Google products for online searches, you may want competitors to at least have the opportunity to impress you and earn your patronage.”

About Ivory

James Ivory is a professor of media studies in the Virginia Tech Department of English. His primary research interests deal with social and psychological dimensions of new media and communication technologies, with a focus on the content and effects of technological features of new entertainment media, such as video games. His expertise has been cited in The Washington Post and USA Today.

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