More from the US v Google trial: vertical search, pre-installation and the Firefox/Yahoo case

We’re nearly two months into the Justice Department’s landmark antitrust case against Google — one of the biggest tech antitrust battles since the US settled Microsoft in the 1990s — and the revelations keep getting juicier.

In our last roundup, we learned how Google will spend $26.3 billion in 2021 making its own default search engine across platforms and how Google is trying to get Chrome preinstalled on iPhones. Over the past two weeks, more of Google’s inner workings have come to light, including some of the search engine’s most useful queries, what the revenue-sharing agreements between Google and Android will look like. OEM and why Expedia has a bone to pick with Google.

Before we get into some of these tidbits…

Why Google’s antitrust case against the US matters

The government argues that Google uses its platforms and deals with partners to prevent any competition in search or advertising, thus preventing competitors from accessing the data they need to improve their products.

If Judge Amit Mehta rules against Google, the search giant will have to change its behavior and share its APIs with third-party developers. It may also be prohibited from making anticompetitive and exclusive deals with smartphone and computer manufacturers and wireless carriers.

Google may need to return all or most of the data it collects to other search engines so they can improve their products and attract more users. The DOJ says that Google gets 16 times more data than Bing every day.

The enforcers want to show that antitrust law remains relevant and that even though Google is basically the God of the Internet, it is still not compatible with US law.

Google’s result could also have a ripple effect in other Big Tech cases. The FTC sued Amazon in September for using anticompetitive and unfair strategies illegally held its monopoly power. The DOJ has been investigating Apple for years over the company’s policy for third-party apps on its devices and whether it unfairly favors its own products. There is an ongoing case between the FTC and Facebook, where the agency is calling on Facebook to sell Instagram and WhatsApp.

This isn’t Google’s only antitrust case on trial right now. The search engine giant last week settled a separate antitrust case with dating site Match Group. On November 6, Google tested Fortnite maker Epic Games. The latter hopes to prove that Google engaged in anticompetitive behavior regarding the Android app store, Google Play, and its commission structure.

Now, on to the roundup!

A window into the most popular Google search queries

Judge Amit Mehta decided to make a public list which gives a glimpse of which search terms make Google the most money. The list of popular search terms ordered by revenue includes the 20 most profitable terms for the week of September 22, 2018. Information such as revenue per search term, how many queries each of those terms are retrieved, along with a separate list of popular search terms ordered by questions (not revenue), all redacted. The list we see is as follows:

  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 plus
  • Car insurance
  • Car insurance
  • Cheap flights
  • Car insurance quotes
  • Direct tv
  • Online colleges
  • AT&T
  • Hulu
  • iPhone
  • Uber
  • Spectrum
  • Comcast
  • Xfinity
  • Insurance quotes
  • Free credit report
  • Cheap car insurance
  • Arp
  • LifeLock

There is, in fact, little surprise here. We’ve already established that Google and Apple have a long and mutually beneficial relationship, even if they compete, so it’s no surprise to see three search-related questions for Apple bringing in the big bucks – most at least since September 22, 2017 is the official release date. on the iPhone 8.

Meanwhile, queries like “car insurance”, “cheap flights” and “credit report” are perennial favorites and they speak to how much Google dominates vertical search – that is, specific searches market categories. As for LifeLock… the massive Equifax data breach of 2017 was a hot topic in September 2017 and LifeLock made a big push to win the business of people who want to buy identity theft protection.

Earning features to pre-install Google apps on Androids

Jamie Rosenberg, a Google employee who focuses on Android and Google Play, testified in Google’s defense on November 8. He said the competition between Google and Apple is “as fierce as it gets,” reported by Bloomberg.

Rosenberg explains how Google gets manufacturers to sign a mobile app distribution agreement (MADA) that requires Android smartphone makers (such as Samsung or Oppo) to pre -load a bundle of 11 Google apps on the device, including Search, Chrome and Play. They shouldn’t be the default options, he said.

Google also has revenue share agreements (RSAs) with smartphone makers and wireless carriers (such as Verizon) that require them to set Google search and the Chrome web browser as the default. Rosenberg defended the move and said it was because Google apps (like Search) were “best in class.” RSAs also encourage other companies to make or sell more Android devices, he said.

Expedia complains about too many search ads, expensive ad fees

On November 1, Barry Diller, chair of Expedia and IAC, testified about his concerns about the increase in the number of ads in search results that have an impact on organic listings.

“I must say that I am on the verge of revolt now that Google’s actions are very punitive, not only for Expedia but also for IAC and all the players who rely on something in a level playing field,” Diller wrote in a letter to Google back in 2019, according to Bloomberg.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai reiterated that Google’s travel listings are one of the most popular experiences the company has built.

Expedia executives also testified about the cost of ads and how the increases had no effect on search results. On October 19, Expedia’s former chief operating officer, Jeff Hurst, told the court that the company’s ad fees increased tenfold from $21 million in 2015 to $290 million in 2019. However, Expedia’s traffic from Google did not increase. The implication is that this is due to direct competition from Google itself. Hurst pointed out that Google began sharing its own flight and hotel data with search results around that time, according to Seattle Times.

The European antitrust fine encourages Google to improve the quality of the search engine

The government argued on November 10 that Google was only trying to improve its search engine in the European Union after it was hit with a €5 billion antitrust fine in 2018, internal documents revealed, according to the Bloomberg.

The EU’s antitrust order forced Google to offer Android phone users a screen with five search engine options to choose from, according to the DOJ. In response, Google implemented a plan, which executives called “Go Big in Europe,” to boost search results in France and Germany in 2019 and 2020 with more local content: news, post- game soccer video highlights, information on local television options for streaming, and pronunciation practice for different languages. The goal is to encourage users to click on Google’s home screen, rather than the competition.

That revelation effectively supports the Justice Department’s argument that Google, without a competitive push, has little incentive to improve its products, a classic outcome in a monopoly.

Mozilla seeks Google supremacy in search

Interestingly, on November 1 Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker gave a defense of Google’s quality as a search engine, even in ‘competitive’ environments. Specifically, Baker recounted how Mozilla “failed” when it switched Firefox’s default search engine from Google to Yahoo.

Quick backstory: Yahoo signed a deal with Mozilla back in 2014 to pay the browser maker $375 million per year to be Firefox’s default search engine. At the time, Google offered $276 million, Baker said. Read on, that’s a bad deal.

“I feel strongly that Yahoo is not delivering the search experience that we needed and contracted for,” he said, according to Bloomberg. The executive said Yahoo promised to reduce the number of ads and offer less user tracking, but ended up serving users more slowly and more ads.

“The number of users who stick with Firefox has decreased significantly over the years that Yahoo has been the default,” Baker said.

Baker, who gave a recorded deposition in Google’s defense, noted that Mozilla users apparently want and expect Google.

However, that is not the whole story. Yahoo was already behind Google in terms of search technology at that point. But again, Firefox is well behind Chrome, which ended in 2014 almost 50% market share and ended 2017 (when Google took over Firefox’s main default search position) for almost 65% of all web browser usage on desktop: and mobile is more inclined towards Chrome. In other words, the number of Firefox users may be declining for other reasons, although pushing the blame on Yahoo will definitely favor Google here!

The test continues…

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