How the Google Antitrust Case Trickles Down Onto Your Phone

GE: It doesn’t help. I’m not sure if there’s really going to be any legal significance here for Apple, I just don’t know. The house report, we have to keep that really distinct from this DOJ lawsuit. The house report kept a really long investigation, and that wasn’t about bringing any particular case. That was about doing a lot of research, figuring out what the problems are and making a lot of recommendations. Many of which were for new legislation, right? So Congress can pass a law to address problems. The Department of Justice can’t pass a law. They can say, well, given the law that exists, here’s what we think is already illegal.

So in the house report, they really focus when it came to Apple, on one thing, which is the way Apple uses its gatekeeper power over the App Store unfairly or allegedly unfairly. So the house investigation really took exception to the way Apple takes a hefty cut of all the payments that app developers receive, the way that if you don’t basically agree to what Apple wants, you can just get denied access to iPhone users, which is an extinction event for an app developer, especially in the United States. Now the Apple tie-in in this DOJ case against Google, it’s a little bit different, but it looks like is Google and Apple have a deal under which Google pays Apple billions of dollars a year to be the search default.

I don’t know, on its own, if that really raises any legal risk for Apple, but there was a line in the legal filing, the complaint that was pretty suggestive, where they quote an Apple employee or executive saying something like, we want it to be like we’re operating as one company. It’s illegal for companies to conspire to restrain trade. As the law, the very, very old antitrust law puts it. This is quite speculative, but I could imagine this arrangement also providing fodder for another claim that Apple and Google actually colluded to discriminate against Google’s competitors. But again, this is not legal advice, WIRED listeners. I never took the bar exam, but that is my speculation.

MC: Well, thank you for sharing your knowledge, even if it is inferior to that of your peers.

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GE: Ouch.

MC: All right. Well, let’s take a quick break. And when we come back, we’ll talk about how the outcome of this complaint could change the way that you search.

[Break]

MC: So while it could take years for this to shake out, whatever the outcome is. The chances are that this complaint could alter if even only slightly, the way that we search for things on the internet. Gilad, I want to ask you, what is the most likely outcome that you’ve heard from the experts that you’ve talked to?

GE: I’ve mostly been talking to experts on the law as opposed to experts on search. And one reason for that is whatever happens in this case, it’s a long way away. It’s going to take months, at least for a judge to rule on any motion to dismiss the Google files. Then it could be a year or a year and a half of discovery. So strap in because this is going to be awhile. Having said that an antitrust case can produce results even before the case is actually concluded. So, one thing you can imagine here is the Department of Justice and Google entering some kind of settlement or consent decree where Google just agrees to stop striking these exclusive deals to be the search default. And if that happened, then when you got a new phone or installed a new browser, instead of just defaulting to Google, it presumably would prompt you to pick, it would offer you a menu of search options and that would give DuckDuckGo and Bing, and whoever else, an opportunity to get a toehold.

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