Google US antitrust trial: A timeline

The biggest antitrust trial of the century, targeting Google's search business, is drawing to a close while a second trial against the tech giant, focusing on advertising, is scheduled for later this year. Here's an updated, play-by-play account of major milestones.

Google’s dominance in the search arena has given rise to two major antitrust lawsuits from the U.S. government, which allege that the company has manipulated the market to maintain that dominance, to the exclusion of its competitors and the detriment of the public at large.

The first lawsuit, targeting Google’s search business, kicked off in mid-September 2023, and is now drawing to a close with the delivery of closing arguments, while a second trial against the tech giant, focusing on advertising, is scheduled for later this year.

The cases heavily echo the turn-of-the-century Microsoft antitrust case in several respects, not least of which is the fact that Google faces the possibility of being broken up by regulators if it is unsuccessful in its legal battles.

Here’s our condensed timeline of the two lawsuits, and their progress through the court system.

May 3, 2024: Over two days of closing arguments, the Department of Justice revisited its case for Google having a monopoly on search advertising, and Judge Mehta quizzed both parties about whether other platforms could be viewed as substitutes for Google’s search advertising business. He hasn’t said how long he expects to take to reach a decision, but if he rules against Google, a second hearing will take place to decide on any remedies.

November 16, 2023: The evidentiary phase of the trial finishes, as Judge Mehta issues instructions for post-trial submissions. Despite considerable amounts of redaction and closed-door testimony, the case revealed some unprecedented details about the relationships between the largest tech companies in the world, including the fact that Apple apparently keeps 36% of the search revenue from Google searches in Safari, and Apple once considered buying Microsoft’s Bing search engine as leverage against Google. Judge Mehta has scheduled closing arguments in the case for May 1, 2024.

October 31, 2023: Google CEO Sundai Pichai takes the stand, for long-awaited testimony about the relationship between his company and Apple. He gave some details about Google’s negotiations with Apple over a contract that made Google the default search engine on Apple’s iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Google has paid billions for the privilege of being the default search on Apple products, and the relationship is a key part of the case – which was underlined by the Justice Department’s cross-examination of Pichai, during which he admitted that default search status is a major driver of market share.

October 18, 2023: Google begins its defense, calling Paul Nayak, a vice president of search, to the stand as its first witness. Nayak downplays the importance of scale in his testimony, stressing that machine intelligence, compute infrastructure, and a team of 16,000 staff that checks on search results are crucial to maintaining quality of service. DOJ witnesses including DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had testified that Google keeps an edge over competitors via an ever-increasing trove of data — the result of its default search engine status, maintained through exclusive contracts and billions of dollars in payments to Apple, Samsung and other companies. This data gives Google an advantage in refining search engine results, they said.

October 3, 2023: As a witness for the prosecution in the Google antitrust trial, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella warns that Google’s monopoly profits could lock in publishers as AI-enabled search arrives. Nadella argued that it’s almost impossible to compete with Google, given the search leader’s massive competitive edge in collecting and analyzing user data. He also warned that Google, with its vast profits and lock on the search market, stands poised to extend its monopoly power in a new era where artificial intelligence technologies will turbocharge the search business.

September 26, 2023: Apple’s Eddy Cue testifies behind closed doors in the Google search case, as critics slam presiding Judge Amit Mehta’s decision to hold much of the trial’s testimony from witnesses secret, allow documents to be heavily redacted, and block some documents from public view — mainly at the insistence of Google, but also at the request of other companies, including Apple. By the end of Cue’s testimony — and after a wek of wrangling by all parties — Judge Mehta rules that documents used during the trial can be published online at the end of each day, but still allows time Google and third parties to object to exhibits being shown publicly before the DOJ presents them in court.

September 21, 2023: Judge Mehta rules that public access to court exhibits, which have been mostly internal Google documents thus far, should be removed, after Google challenged the Justice Department’s regular publication of them. The company said that it was concerned for its employees’ privacy.

September 12, 2023: The default search trial begins with opening statements, and the government begins its case.

August 2023: Judge Mehta grants partial summary judgment for Google in the search case, saying that the government had failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact on antitrust charges relating to contracts around the use of the Android operating system, as well as Google Assistant and IoT devices. The claims relating to Google’s exclusive “default search” contracts, however, are allowed to proceed to trial.

July/August 2023: Google and the plaintiffs in the search case argue various motions in limine, designed to control what evidence should be included or excluded in the actual trial. Discovery and motion practice over evidence continues in the advertising case.

June 2023: Judge Mehta schedules a trial date of September 12, 2023 for the search case.

April 2023: Judge Leonie M. Brinkema denies Google’s motion to dismiss in the advertising case.

March 2023: Google’s motion to transfer the advertising case to New York is denied by Judge Brinkema, who orders the parties to propose discovery schedules within two weeks of the order. Two weeks later, Google moves to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim, arguing that the plaintiffs have simply produced legal conclusions, and not specific facts, that could support their claims. Judge Brinkema schedules pre-trial conferences for January 2024.

February 2023: The plaintiffs in the default search case case move for sanctions against Google, accusing it of spoliation, which refers to the destruction, alteration or failure to preserve relevant evidence in a case. Elsewhere, in the advertising case, Google moves to transfer the case from the Eastern District of Virginia to the Southern District of New York, which is seen as an attempt to consolidate the case with related digital advertising antitrust litigation.

January 2023: A second antitrust action, this one filed by eight states and the DoJ, is filed in federal district court in eastern Virginia. The plaintiffs, who call for Google’s advertising business to be split up, accuse Google of manipulating its dominant position in the online advertising world to squeeze out rivals and control both the supply and demand side of the advertising market. Google, according to the complaint, thwarted fair competition by manipulating fees, punished advertisers for using alternative platforms and ad exchanges, and engaged in a host of further anti-competitive behavior in the interest of monopolizing the marketplace.

December 2022: Google moves for summary judgment against the separate Colorado case and the larger, DoJ-led case. A summary judgement motion is essentially a request by one of the parties in a lawsuit that the judge rule in their favor and end the case, arguing that, based on the undisputed facts, they are entitled to win the case as a matter of law.

May 2022: A deadline of June 17 is set for the production of all discovery materials. Further documents – for example, those whose is existence is first disclosed in late in the discovery window – can be produced until June 30.

May 2022: Judge Mehta denies a government motion to sanction Google for inaccurately classifying documents as attorney-client privileged. The plaintiffs had argued that emails on which Google’s lawyers were listed as recipients or CCed, but that the lawyers never responded to, constituted a misuse of the attorney-client privilege rules.

December 2021: Judge Mehta conditionally splits Colorado’s claims from the case at large, ordering that separate trials on that state’s issues of liability and remedies will be “more convenient for the Court and the Parties, and will expedite and economize this litigation.”

August-October 2021: Discovery-related motions and orders continue, as Yelp and Samsung join the fray. (Those companies, like Microsoft and Apple, are relevant to the case even if they aren’t parties themselves, as their internal records are potentially relevant to Google’s liability.)

June/July 2021: The discovery process continues, and the U.S. and Google both file several documents with the court under seal. (Microsoft files two sealed documents, as well, in response to Google’s subpoenas for company records, and Apple becomes involved after the government requests access to some of its internal information.)

March 2021: Meetings between Google and the various governmental plaintiffs continue, with periodic status reports on the discovery process.

January 2021: Google files a response to the complaint, admitting to many of the facts alleged by the Justice Department and associated attorneys general, but categorically denying the substance of the government’s claims of illegality. Further responses to separate but related claims, generally to specific state attorneys general, follow in the subsequent weeks and months.

December 2020: Judge Amit Mehta approves the joinder of Michigan, Wisconsin and California to the suit.

October 2020: The Department of Justice, along with the attorneys general of 11 states, sues Google in DC federal district court for unlawfully maintaining a monopoly, in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act. The case centers on Google’s use of exclusive contracts that mandate its use as the default search engine in a host of different hardware and software applications, with the government alleging that this represents an artificial constraint on any possible competition for the search giant.