Google Trial Spills Details on Search Engine’s Deals With Apple, Samsung

Google Trial Spills Details on Search Engine’s Deals With Apple, Samsung
Google Trial Spills Details on Search Engine’s Deals With Apple, Samsung


The company says it was offering the better product, while the Justice Department argues the agreements were illegal.

Google’s path to dominating online search included hardball tactics with Apple and Samsung Electronics, two partners key to making its search engine the default choice on most smartphones worldwide.

Details of the company’s strategies are spilling out into public view as part of a landmark antimonopoly trial that began this month in Washington, D.C. The case has provided a rare glimpse into how Google cemented its status as a major gateway to the internet, a position the Justice Department says it has maintained through illegal, restrictive agreements.

Google pressed its advantage in conversations with Apple and other partners, according to evidence presented at trial, showing the kinds of tactics it used to maintain its market share in search. The company has defended the market position of its search engine by saying its product is superior.

Google facilitates about 90% of all online searches, giving it an unrivaled view into the internet browsing behavior of billions. Its search engine supports an advertising business that brought in $162 billion last year, most of the revenue at parent company Alphabet.

The DOJ’s case centers around Google’s contracts with Apple and other phone makers to automatically direct people to its search engine. Google began entering the agreements as far back as 2001, offering to split the revenue generated when those users click on ads.

Apple began licensing Google’s search engine for the 2003 release of its Safari web browser. Google in 2005 offered Apple a portion of advertising revenue if it made the search engine the default choice on desktop computers.

Two years later, Apple asked Google for an amendment to the contract that would allow it to present users with several options for the default search engine, according to an email presented by the Justice Department. Apple approached Yahoo about participating in the setup.

In response, Google told Apple: “No default—no revenue share," according to an internal email chain that included former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founder Sergey Brin. Apple dropped the idea and hasn’t raised it again, said DOJ lead trial attorney Kenneth Dintzer.

A Google spokesman pointed to a previous statement saying the company competes for default placement so that users can easily access its services, and Apple has said it picks Google because it is the best search engine. Apple declined to comment.

The DOJ is presenting evidence first in the case, which will be decided in a nonjury trial by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who could ultimately order a breakup or other changes to Google’s business practices. Mehta has allowed substantial redactions and sealing of trial records, meaning the public has only a limited view into the full extent of what has been presented to the judge.

The trial resumes Tuesday with scheduled testimony from Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services. Google CEO Sundar Pichai is expected to testify, as well as some Microsoft executives. Google is scheduled to present its defense starting next month.

Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of competing search-engine provider DuckDuckGo, said in testimony on Thursday that Google’s default agreements effectively blocked the company’s ability to gain market share. DuckDuckGo tried to strike deals of its own but gave up after three years of trying, he said.

Google has argued that its business practices leave plenty of room for consumer choice, and partners choose its search engine because it is the best business decision. Google’s lead trial attorney, John Schmidtlein of Williams & Connolly, said during opening arguments that preventing Google from competing for contracts would be anathema to U.S. antitrust law.

Harry First, a professor of law at New York University who studies antitrust and has followed the trial, said the government is trying to “build up layers of showing that defaults matter." The evidence shows Google not only paid significant sums for the contracts but also spent time and effort ensuring they got what they wanted, he said.

In 2013, Apple began using a service called Suggestions to offer users alternative links for certain search queries in the Safari browser, Dintzer said during opening arguments for the government.

Google responded by amending its contract to say Apple “could not expand farther than what they were doing" in September 2016, according to an email sent by Joan Braddi, vice president of product partnerships at Google.

The company’s behavior, Dintzer said, amounted to a “monopolist flexing."

In 2021, Google analyzed the potential hit if Apple switched to another default search-engine provider, according to an internal email presented in court, calling it a “Code Red" scenario.

Google also tussled with Samsung about changes the smartphone company had made to its mobile web browser. The design tweaks made it easier for users to switch default search engines, according to testimony from Antonio Rangel, a behavioral economics professor called by the DOJ.

Google protested, telling Samsung it had violated their agreement, and the phone maker rolled back the change, Rangel said. Samsung didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Google also missed out on some deals. Major smartphone carriers AT&T and Verizon at one point made Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing, respectively, the default choices on Android phones, according to an email written in 2011 by former Google executive Chris Barton, a witness called by the Justice Department.

Google sometimes lost deals to Yahoo because it wouldn’t match the rival’s greater revenue split, Barton said during testimony. Instead, he tried to convince potential partners they could make more money with Google because it had the superior product, he said.

Google and other companies have successfully argued for extensive redactions in emails and presentations cited by the DOJ. Several witnesses conducted hours of testimony in closed sessions off limits to the public.

Last week, Mehta ordered the DOJ to take down exhibits it had uploaded to a public website after Google alerted the judge to their existence.

“This is unusual in a pivotal case like this to have such extensive closure, secrecy and redactions," said Megan Gray, a former Federal Trade Commission lawyer who has sued Google over privacy issues.

Early in his second day of testimony, Rangel said most of Google’s search traffic on Android devices came from a virtual box automatically placed on the home screen of phones covered by the company’s agreements.

Schmidtlein, the Google lawyer, rose from his seat and cautioned the witness not to reveal proprietary data in open court.

Write to Miles Kruppa at

Google Trial Spills Details on Search Engine’s Deals With Apple, Samsung
View Full Image
Google Trial Spills Details on Search Engine’s Deals With Apple, Samsung
Catch all the Technology News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.


Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App