Google CEO Sundar Pichai upheld the company’s decision to pay out billions of dollars to remain the top global search engine at the U.S. anti-trust trial on Monday, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. Pichai claimed he tried to give users a “seamless and easy” experience, even if it meant paying Apple and other tech companies an exorbitant fee.
The U.S. Department of Justice is arguing that Google created the building blocks to hold a monopoly over the market, but Pichai disagrees, saying the company is the dominant search engine because it is better than its competitors.
“We realized early on that browsers are critical to how people are able to navigate and use the web,” Pichai said during questioning, as reported by The Journal. “It became very clear early on that if you make the user’s experience better, they would use the web more, they would enjoy using the web more, and they would search more in Google as well.”
Pichai testified that Google’s payments to phone companies and manufacturers were meant to push them toward more security upgrades and not just enabling Google to be the primary search engine.
Internal emails between Pichai and his colleagues in 2007 were shared during the cross-examination revealing Google’s insistence to be Apple’s default search engine. Pichai says he was worried about being the only search engine and requested a Yahoo backup version.
Google paid Apple a reported $18 billion to remain the default search engine on its Macs, iPhones, and iPads in 2021, and paid tech companies a grand total of $26 billion in 2021 alone, according to court documents. Pichai’s statements appear to be mirroring Prabhakar Raghavan, Google’s senior vice president and search head, who claimed the payout was not why Google remains a top search engine but was instead because of its quality and superior accessibility.
Other tech company CEOs were called to testify, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said it’s trapped in a “vicious cycle” because Google can use its 90% market share to increase its visibility and its bottom line, reinforcing the company’s monopoly on the market, The Journal reported.
“Google invests billions in defaults, knowing people won’t change them,” DOJ attorney Kenneth Dintzer told the judge preceding the anti-trust trial at a hearing last month, according to CNBC. “They are buying default exclusivity because defaults matter a lot.”
The anti-trust trial likely won’t reach its conclusion until at least early 2024. If Google is ruled to have broken antitrust laws, another trial could supersede it to decide on measures to reign in Google’s market power.