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Google Antitrust Trial: Verizon Executive Testifies About Default Agreements
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Google Antitrust Trial Continues with Verizon Executive Testimony

The Google antitrust trial, now entering its second week, sees the Justice Department calling upon Verizon’s Senior Vice President of Device and Consumer Product Marketing, Brian Higgins, as its first witness. Higgins is expected to face questions regarding Google’s agreements with wireless carriers, which establish Google as the default smartphone search and advertising provider.

From ‘Future of the Internet to Nitty-Gritty Agreements


While the trial initially delved into discussions about the “future of the internet,” it quickly shifted focus to the intricate commercial agreements involving Android manufacturers such as Motorola and Samsung.

Verizon’s Brian Higgins Takes the Stand

On Monday, a senior executive, Brian Higgins from Verizon, will testify about his role in overseeing Verizon’s “device, product, and accessory portfolio.” The Justice Department contends that Google’s agreements with mobile carriers, amounting to $10 billion annually, are designed to secure dominant default positions on smartphones and other devices, ultimately boosting Google’s search dominance and profits.

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Google’s Push for Default Status and User Experience

James Kolotouros, a Google executive responsible for negotiations with Android device makers and carriers, testified that Google exerted pressure on Android smartphone manufacturers to have Google as the default search engine and pre-installed other Google apps on their devices. Google aimed to ensure Android phones could compete with Apple’s “elegance” and offer users a predictable experience.

The Antitrust Battle’s Broader Implications

This antitrust battle has significant implications for the tech industry, which Congress and antitrust enforcers have long scrutinized. Tech giants have faced accusations of acquiring or stifling smaller competitors but have defended their practices, emphasizing their services’ affordability or free nature, as seen in Google’s case.

Google argues its search engine’s popularity stems from its quality, and payments to wireless companies and partners were merely compensatory.

The Role of Defaults in User Behavior

After the initial discussions on the “future of the internet,” the trial has been consumed by debates over user behavior concerning default settings on computers and smartphones. The central question revolves around whether users stick with defaults or switch when they find them unsatisfactory.

Behavioral Expert Testifies for the Government

The government called upon Antonio Rangel, a behavioral biology expert from the California Institute of Technology, to support its argument. Rangel asserted that users are more likely to stick with default search engines or map apps when pre-installed on their devices, providing a rationale for Google’s desire to pay for default status and exclusivity, which would lead to increased search queries and advertising profits.

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Google Counters with Data

In response, Google’s legal team, led by John Schmidtlein, presented data suggesting that users willingly remain loyal to Google’s search engine when it’s the default option on their devices but readily switch away from alternatives like Bing when given a choice.

Insights from Former Google Executive

The government also questioned Chris Barton, a former Google executive who served at the company from 2004 to 2011. Barton stated that in Google’s revenue-sharing agreements with mobile carriers and Android smartphone manufacturers, Google consistently pushed for its search engine to be the default and exclusive choice. According to Barton, if Microsoft’s Bing were the default search engine on Android phones, users would have a “difficult time finding or changing to Google.”

A High-Profile Trial

The trial has drawn notable figures, including Tim Wu, a former advisor to President Biden on competition matters, and representatives from prominent tech companies. The courtroom remains a focal point for the ongoing scrutiny of Big Tech and its impact on the digital landscape.

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