of the federal government The first monopoly trial of the modern Internet era Less than a week old, but a central character has already emerged: Data. Its role, its use and its power are key issues in the Justice Department’s case against Google.
The government claims Google bribed and intimidated smartphone makers like Apple and Samsung and browser maker Mozilla into creating its own featured search engine, sending far more data to Google and fending off competitors.
The government says that data is the chariot of Google’s success. Each search query adds data, which improves search results, attracting more users who generate even more data and advertising revenue. And Google’s ever-growing data advantage, Government claimsAn insurmountable obstacle for rivals.
Kenneth Dintzer, the Justice Department’s lead lawyer, said in his opening statement Tuesday that data “is oxygen for search engines.”
The government’s case is not that Google violated the law in becoming a search giant. Instead, the government claims that after Google came to dominate, the company broke the law with its tactics to protect its monopoly. The government claims that its default search engine contracts with industry partners were weapons – special deals that frustrated rivals. So Google is now protected from competition behind a fortress built from data.
Google’s response is that the government’s case is a manipulation of a misleading theory supported by facts. Google’s lead lawyer, John Schmidtlein, insisted in his opening statement that the government had chosen to “ignore the inevitable truths.”
According to Google, the truth is that the company holds the leading position in search due to its technological innovation. It competes with others for default-placement contracts and wins primarily because Google is the best search engine. Google argues that these contracts help lower smartphone prices and benefit consumers.
Google says that the government is exaggerating the importance of data. In A brief was filed this monthThe company said, “Google does not deny that user data can improve search quality, but Google will show that there are diminishing returns to scale.”
The trial will resume this week with the Justice Department presenting its case. The first witness to testify Monday is Brian Higgins, a Verizon executive who oversees mobile device and customer marketing. The trial is scheduled to last for 10 weeks. Judge Amit P. Mehta’s decision will come next year.
Google has 90 percent of the search engine market in the United States, while Microsoft’s Bing is its distant rival with less than 5 percent. Google says the difference is explained by the cleverness of its engineers, not the size of its rich data.
To make its case, Google will call an expert witness, Edward Fox, a computer scientist at Virginia Tech. Professor Fox has conducted a “data reduction experiment” on behalf of Google to estimate how much Google’s search quality would decline if it used much less data – approximately the amount available to Bing. The result was that the data difference explains only a portion of the difference in search quality between Google and Microsoft, according to Google’s filing.
Google’s public messaging on that issue has been consistent over the years. But the government claims that this message is misleading. In his opening statement, Mr. Dintzer said Google had “misled the public about the importance of the data.”
To try to show deception, the government last week introduced emails between senior Google employees arguing that point into evidence. Google’s chief economist Hal Varian was questioned about the default and the data as the Justice Department’s first witness.
The comments made by Mr Varian on the issue were In a 2009 interview With technology news site CNET.
In the article, Mr. Varian said, “The scale argument is very bogus.”
To explain, he said in the article: “The quantity or quality of the ingredients does not matter. This is the recipe.” It was a clever analogy, in which the ingredients were data and the recipes were clever algorithms written by Google’s engineers. When Mr. Varian’s explanation was picked up in a Time magazine article, it reached a wider audience.
but in An email to Mr Varian Shortly afterward, Udi Manbar, a senior engineer on Google’s search team, took issue with the economist’s description. “It is simply not true that scale does not matter,” Mr. Manber wrote. “We make pretty good use of whatever we get.”
In an email string with other Google employees, Mr Manber wrote“I know it’s well-read, but unfortunately it’s factually incorrect.”
A lot has changed since then. The government produced the emails to cast doubt on the credibility of what Google is saying in court. They amount to a few excerpts at the beginning of a lengthy non-jury trial that will generate a wealth of evidence, testimony and rebuttals for Judge Mehta to weigh and consider.
But what is already clear is that the debate over data in discovery – whether or not it has market-determining power – is an important issue, and one both sides will be forced to return to again and again in the trial.