The Justice Department questioned Brian Higgins, a longtime Verizon executive who helped negotiate the company’s deals with Google from 2017 to 2023, to kick off the second week of the Big Tech firm’s landmark antitrust trial.
He did not say why Verizon had not opened the bidding process to other companies, such as Microsoft.
Higgins’ testimony could support a key argument for the feds, who have asserted that Google pays top dollar to secure crucial default status for its search engine and drive more users to its platform – and away from rivals.
The DOJ previously said Google spends more than $10 billion per year on deals with mobile carriers such as Verizon and phone makers like Apple to dominate the online search marketplace and gain an undue edge.
Google, meanwhile, has denied engaging in anticompetitive business practices while arguing that the quality of its search engine, not its top-dollar deals with partners, have allowed it to build an online behemoth.
“To the best of my knowledge, I believe it is pre-installed all the time,” Higgins added on the stand, referring to Google’s search engine on Verizon mobile devices.
While Higgins testified for approximately three hours, only a small portion of his time on the stand was made public.
The rest took place during a closed session because it was related to confidential information about Google’s current deal with Verizon. The DOJ has taken issue with the extent of the redactions.
At one point in Monday’s proceedings, federal attorney David Dahlquist pointed to a specific document that contained details about Google’s advertising pricing as an example of the type of information that should be made public.
“This satisfies public interest because it’s at the core of the DOJ case against Google,” Dahlquist said.
Google attorney John Schmidtlein argued that any information on pricing strategy should be kept behind closed doors.
During Monday’s session, the court also kicked off questioning of Google executive Jerry Dischler, who oversees advertising products at the company.
Last week, Antonio Rangel, a behavioral economist and professor at the California Institute of Technology, testified that Google’s default status on an array of devices is a powerful tool for the company and its ability to lure users.
“Search engine defaults generate a sizable and robust bias towards the default,” Rangel said. “Defaults have a powerful impact on consumer decisions.”
Rangel also shot down an argument by Google users could easily switch their default search engine, telling the court that it took 10 steps for the owner to switch Google for Microsoft’s Bing.
“That is considerable choice friction,” Rangel said.
The outcome of the antitrust trial will have major implications for Google and ripple effects for the tech industry as a whole.
Depending on the outcome, US District Judge Amit Mehta, who will decide the case, could order Google to be broken up or to discontinue specific business practices.