September 27, 2023

Google promotes 25th anniversary, hides details of two-trillion-dollar antitrust trial

Go Ogle

Everyone knows that today marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Google, not least because everyone sees the 25th anniversary Google Doodle (above) on the Google front page. Far fewer people know that Google is currently in the middle of an antitrust trial that deserves more attention and whose internal details are largely hidden from public view.

Matt Stoller comments on this in his newsletter Big, and draws a comparison between the current Google antitrust trial and one faced down by Microsoft nearly a quarter-century ago:

For eight months, the Microsoft antitrust trial was front-page news, the drama of the trillion dollar personal computing revolution unveiled to the public. One result was that Microsoft, afraid of public exposure years later, refused to use its control over the browser to kill nascent rivals, in particular a young search company called Google.

Today, we should be in a similar moment, only this time with Google as the titan on trial. Google has engaged in behavior that’s almost identical to what Microsoft did in terms of coercion of rivals, and just as consequential in terms of shaping the future. And yet, the reporting and interest in this trial is minuscule compared to what we saw 25 years ago. Frankly, some days, our Big Tech on Trial reporting site is one of the few journalists in the court room, which is astonishing. This dynamic is especially odd because, unlike 1998, we are in an anti-monopoly moment, with political interest in corporate behavior far more elevated than it was in 1998.

What gives? There are a few reasons for this odd disconnect, but one reason is very simple - there was public access to the Microsoft trial in 1998. However today the judge, a guy named Amit Mehta, has effectively barred the public from seeing anything meaningful or interesting.

It’s cause for concern because Google could escape an unfavorable ruling, simply because it has largely escaped public scrutiny and public awareness. The government should push for more disclosure of trial proceedings, and everyone should push for more coverage of this trial.