(Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department and Alphabet's Google on Thursday wrapped up the evidentiary phase of their legal fight over whether Google broke the law to maintain its dominance of search and some search advertising.
Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will rule sometime in 2024 on whether any of Google's actions broke antitrust law. The following is what might happen after his ruling, according to experts.
No matter who prevails when Mehta issues his ruling, experts say there will be an appeal. Google will appeal if the company is found to have broken antitrust law. The government will appeal if Google is found innocent of any wrongdoing. Is this likely to end up being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court? "Oh, for sure," said Megan Gray, an independent tech lobbyist who has been attending proceedings.
WHAT IS THE REMEDY?
If the appeals are over and Google is found not guilty, the case is done.
But if Google is found to have broken the law, the Justice Department will go back and ask the judge for a remedy to undo the harm in the search and search advertising market. Experts disagree on whether this phase would take place before the appeals are exhausted.
One potential remedy would be to ban Google from paying billions of dollars - $26.3 billion in 2021 - to Apple, wireless companies, Android smartphone makers and others to be the default search engine on their devices, said Lee Hepner, legal counsel for the American Economic Liberties Project. Microsoft's Bing and other search engines would be allowed to make payments to be the default, however, raising the possibility of Google rivals getting more users.
If the Justice Department wins in the first phase, it may also ask Mehta to require Google to share data on what users ask Google and what responses they click on, experts said. This is something that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Bing and other search engines need in order to compete. Google's default search agreements have prevented this from happening, they say.
Google may also be required to spin off its Chrome browser, which has the Google search engine as its default. Chrome has almost 60% of the computer browser market, according to the Justice Department's amended complaint filed in 2021.
Any remedy would have an independent monitor ensuring Google's compliance for a number of years.
WHEN WILL THE CASE BE OVER?
The lawsuit was filed in 2020, and it could be mid-2026 before all appeals are exhausted, experts said.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)