Is Google’s Market Dominance an Illegal Monopoly or Fair Play?

Isabelle Ortiz-LuisNews & Insights

If you search the “Top 10 Movies of 2012” on your smartphone, the results will likely populate from Google. This is because most users have Google as their default search engine.[1] Google rose to prominence soon after the early-2000s dot-com crash,[2] when its keen ability to evolve its search algorithms catapulted it to the forefront of the internet search industry.[3] Today, Google’s dominant market share is at the center of one of the biggest antitrust trials in history.[4] In U.S. v. Google, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) alleges that Google entered into anticompetitive deals with Apple and other companies to become the primary search engine in tech products––resulting in an illegal monopoly.[5] The DOJ and Google are fiercely litigating to determine whether Google established its dominant market share through anticompetitive conduct or by simply offering consumers a higher quality search engine.[6]

In its ascent to the top, Google has been criticized for shutting out competitors and maintaining an illegal monopoly.[7] In some instances, a company’s market dominance is legal. Indeed, “[t]he mere possession or exercise of monopoly power is not an offense . . . .”[8] However, the Department of Justice defines an unlawful monopoly as any instance where “one firm has market power for a product or service, and it has obtained or maintained that market power, not through competition on the merits, but because the firm has suppressed competition by engaging in anticompetitive conduct.”[9] The Government and Google each offer compelling, albeit contradictory, arguments to explain Google’s market dominance.

The DOJ alleges that Google “has almost completely shut out its competitors from mobile distribution.”[10] Google pays billions of dollars a year to software developers and smartphone manufacturers to remain the default search engine for products.”[11] In turn, these agreements make it nearly impossible for companies to compete, leaving consumers with less options available for search engines.[12] According to Microsoft’s Chief Executive Satya Nadella, Microsoft – a $2.4 trillion company – could not win deals to earn Bing default positions on smartphones because of Google’s position in the search engine landscape.[13] Nadella testified that Apple used Microsoft to “bid up the price” for its Google deal.”[14] Microsoft’s Business Development Executive Jonathan Tinter testified that Microsoft “failed to secure a deal to put its Bing search application on Apple’s products, even though it was willing to offer far better terms than Google and to lose multiple billions of dollars on the agreement.”[15] Apple’s relationship with Google remains a primary focus in the case.[16]

Google argues that other search engines, including Microsoft, fail to compete with Google because they have inferior products and lack investment.[17] In 2013, Apple initially incorporated Microsoft’s Bing search engine into certain newer features, including the voice assistant Siri.[18] Over time, Apple executives conducted experiments with Bing and determined that Google outperformed across most features.[19] By 2017, Apple transitioned to using Google for these features.[20] Accordingly, Google attributes its success to its superior products[21] and contends that it is simply more effective than Bing, Amazon, Tiktok, and even ChatGPT.[22]

Ultimately, Google argues that it retains 90% of the market share simply because consumers choose to use its services.[23] However, the regulatory scrutiny has given rise to comparisons with the seminal 1998 antitrust case, U.S. v. Microsoft Corporation.[24]  In that case, the court found that Microsoft unlawfully maintained its operating systems monopoly through anticompetitive agreements.[25] At the time, Microsoft accounted for over 90% of the operating systems market and bundled those services with its Internet Explorer web browser.[26] The government alleged that Microsoft abused its monopoly power by forcing computer manufacturers into restrictive agreements that required them to bundle both services.[27] This strategy made it difficult for computer manufacturers to use non-Microsoft browsers, and it discouraged competitors from entering the market.[28] Microsoft ultimately entered into a settlement to untie its operating system from its web browser.[29] Microsoft serves as a blueprint for addressing anti-competitive practices in big tech, and foreshadows Google’s challenges against antitrust regulators.[30]

In the context of Microsoft, the DOJ argues that Google follows a similar pattern of monopolistic behavior as Microsoft did, with the intention of stifling competitors.[31] However, Google contends that it differs from that case because during the late 1990’s consumers had no alternative software options aside from Microsoft; now consumers have a variety of options.[32]

As technology continues to permeate our lives, regulators are cracking down on Silicon Valley’s biggest companies.[33] Along with the DOJ’s second case against Google over its control of online advertising, the government has opened antitrust suits against Apple, Amazon, and Meta.[34] The US v. Google case may be consequential to consumers all over the world regardless of who wins in this battle. If Google loses the antitrust case, it could potentially face a breakup into smaller companies or restrictions on its search agreements––leading to a significantly altered Google or a shift in users’ default search engine.[35] If the DOJ loses, it could indicate that our current legal system is ill-equipped to address the challenges posed by these major players in the digital economy.[36] Regardless of who wins in this battle, this antitrust case will be consequential to consumers all over the world.


[1] David McCabe and Cecilia Kang, ‘A Monopolist Flexing’: U.S. Blasts Google’s Tactics as Antitrust Trial Opens, NY Times (Sept. 12, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/12/technology/google-monopoly-antitrust-trial.html?smid=url-share.

[2] The dotcom crash was a significant financial crisis that occurred in the early 2000s due to the rapid decline in the stock prices of many internet-related companies. The crash was caused by excessive speculation and overvaluation of these low-profit companies. See Adam Hayes, Dotcom Bubble Definition, Investopedia (June 13, 2023), https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/dotcom-bubble.asp

[3] Jack Nicas, Google Took Different Approaches Than Yahoo, The Wall Street Journal (Jul. 25, 2016), http://www.wsj.com/articles/google-took-different-approaches-than-yahoo-1469489370.

[4] Id. See also Adi Robertson, U.S. v. Google: All the News From the Search Antitrust Showdown (Oct. 27, 2023), https://www.theverge.com/23869483/us-v-google-search-antitrust-case-updates.

[5] Adi Robertson, U.S. v. Google: All the News From the Search Antitrust Showdown (Oct. 27, 2023), https://www.theverge.com/23869483/us-v-google-search-antitrust-case-updates.

[6] Id.

[7] Richard Nieva, Google Has Maintained Illegal Monopoly For More Than A Decade, DOJ Claims, Forbes (Sep. 12, 2023), https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardnieva/2023/09/12/google-antitrust-trial-opening-statements/?sh=2cbdb164bf37.

[8] Competition and Monopoly: Single-Firm Conduct Under Section 2 of the Sherman Act: Chapter 1, The Department of Justice (last visited Oct. 30 2023), https://www.justice.gov/archives/atr/competition-and-monopoly-single-firm-conduct-under-section-2-sherman-act-chapter-1#:~:text=The%20mere%20possession%20or%20exercise,and%20is%20to%20be%20condemned.

[9]The Antitrust Laws,  The Department of Justice (last visited Oct. 29, 2023), https://www.justice.gov/atr/antitrust-laws-and-you#:~:text=An%20unlawful%20monopoly%20exists%20when,by%20engaging%20in%20anticompetitive%20conduct.

[10] Compl. at 37, United States v. Google LLC., No. 1:20-cv-03010 (D.D.C. 2020), ECF No. 1. https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1328941/download.

[11] McCabe & Kang, supra note 1.

[12] Bobby Allyn, Shannon Bond, & Ryan Lucas, Google Abuses Its Monopoly Power Over Search, Justice Department Says In Lawsuit, NPR (Oct. 20, 2020), https://www.npr.org/2020/10/20/925736276/google-abuses-its-monopoly-power-over-search-justice-department-says-in-lawsuit

[13] McCabe & Kang, supra note 1.

[14]  Leah Nylen, Dina Bass, & Todd Shields, Microsoft CEO Says Google Search Dominance to Give It AI Edge, Bloomberg (Oct. 2, 2023), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-10-02/microsoft-s-nadella-calls-search-choice-bogus-in-google-trial#xj4y7vzkg.

[15] Diana Bass, Todd Shields, & Lean Nylen, Microsoft CEO says Google Search Dominance Will Give it AI Edge, Seattle Times (Oct. 2, 2023), https://www.seattletimes.com/business/microsoft-ceo-says-google-search-dominance-will-give-it-ai-edge/#:~:text=Last%20week%2C%20Microsoft%20business%20development,of%20dollars%20on%20the%20agreement

[16] Leah Nylen, DOJ Google Antitrust Case Wraps With Apple Deal on Center Stage, Bloomberg (Oct. 19, 2023) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-10-19/doj-google-antitrust-case-wraps-with-apple-deal-on-center-stage.

[17] David McCabe & Cecilia Kang, Microsoft C.E.O. Testifies That Google’s Power in Search Is Ubiquitous, NY Times (Oct. 2, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/02/technology/microsoft-ceo-testifies-google-search.html.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Steven Lohr, In Antitrust Trial, Google Argues That Smart Employees Explain Its Success, NY Times (Oct. 18, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/18/business/google-antitrust-pandu-nayak.html

[22] McCabe & Kang, supra note 1.

[23] David McCabe & Cecilia Kang, Google Viewed Exclusive Search Deals as a ‘Weapon,’ Justice Department says , NY Times (Sept. 12, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/09/12/business/google-antitrust-trial.

[24] See e.g., Shira Ovide, Microsoft’s Lessons for Google, NY Times (Dec. 17, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/technology/microsofts-lessons-for-google.html.

[25] See generally United States v. Microsoft Corp., 253 F.3d 34 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

[26] Antitrust Division Dep’t of Just., U.S. V. Microsoft: Proposed Findings of Fact, (last visited Oct. 29, 2023),  https://www.justice.gov/atr/us-v-microsoft-proposed-findings-fact-0.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Ovide, supra note 24.

[31] Associated Press,  U.S. antitrust case against Google mirrors Microsoft battle, NBC News (Oct. 21, 2020),  https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/us-antitrust-case-google-mirrors-microsoft-battle-rcna159.

[32] Id.

[33] See e.g. Deconstructed, The Feds Take Big Tech to Court, The Intercept (Sept. 30, 2023), https://shows.acast.com/1d1223a2-9d05-473b-9e79-c2b65b71d676/6517845641193e001185b3b2.

[34] Diane Bartz, Amazon Faces Landmark Monopoly Lawsuit by FTC, Reuters (Sept. 27, 2023), https://www.reuters.com/technology/us-sues-amazoncom-breaking-antitrust-law-harming-consumers-2023-09-26/.

[35] Sara Morrison, What Google’s trial means for the company — and your web browsing, Vox (Oct. 3, 2023) https://www.vox.com/technology/2023/9/11/23864514/google-search-antitrust-trial.

[36] Id.