CEO Sundar Pichai took the stand this week in a high-stakes trial, defending Google against allegations by Fortnite maker Epic Games that the tech giant’s Google Play store employs illegal monopolistic tactics to maintain dominance in the mobile app distribution market.
Pichai’s testimony marks the second time in two weeks the soft-spoken CEO has appeared in court to rebut accusations of anticompetitive behavior. His back-to-back appearances highlight the escalating legal threats facing Google and parent company Alphabet over claims the tech giant abuses its influence in online search, digital advertising, and app store markets.
The trial caps a pivotal year in Big Tech’s confrontation with antitrust regulators worldwide. Google faces an array of probes and lawsuits accusing it of abusing its clout in digital markets to unfairly quash rivals and harm consumers. The San Francisco trial poses another critical test of Google’s market power.
Epic Seeks to Break Google’s Grip on Android App Distribution
During 90 minutes of intense questioning, Pichai calmly defended Google’s practices and record-keeping transparency against claims the company uses underhanded tactics to cement the Google Play Store’s dominance in Android app distribution.
Epic’s attorneys confronted Pichai with internal emails and records aimed at proving Google initially developed Android as an open ecosystem but later used restrictive deals and revenue sharing arrangements to block rival app stores from gaining traction.
According to Epic’s depiction, Google imposes unnecessary hurdles and warnings that make it challenging for Android users to download apps directly from developers rather than through the Google Play store. Epic claims such policies illegally help Google Play fend off competition.
Pichai insisted Google’s practices ultimately provide “safety and security” for users and reflect fair compensation for the company’s substantial investments and risks in developing Android and Google Play into a ubiquitous mobile marketplace.
Apple Deal Provides Rare Glimpse Into Google’s Secret Revenue Sharing
In a rare peek behind the curtain of Silicon Valley business dealings, Pichai confirmed Google provides billions in annual payments to Apple in order to remain the default search engine in the iPhone’s Safari browser.
Pichai revealed Google gives Apple an estimated 36% cut, amounting to a majority share of the $26 billion Google spent on revenue sharing with partners in 2021. The disclosure provided a glimpse into the enormous sums Google is willing to pay to secure prime placement for its search engine against rivals.
While Pichai declined to disclose the actual dollars paid to Apple, applying the 36% figure to Google’s reported $26 billion in revenue sharing costs suggests the company may have provided upwards of $9 billion to Apple in 2021.
The revelation illustrates the huge incentives at play as Google navigates business relationships with partners and rivals to protect its search dominance. Google’s payments likely help explain why Apple has shown little interest in developing its own search product to compete with Google.
Android’s Open Approach Contrasts With Apple’s Walled Garden
Under friendlier questioning from Google’s attorney, Pichai asserted that Android’s “unprecedented” open platform approach stands in contrast to Apple’s closed iOS ecosystem. He stated that Android’s free open-source model has enabled it to reach over 2.5 billion users worldwide, providing many people with their only avenue to affordable smartphone access.
Pichai disputed Epic’s characterization that Google aims to “stifle” competition, stating the company remains committed to its mission of organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible.
The CEO described Android and Google Play as providing consumers and developers with an alternative model to Apple’s more restrictive walled garden. Pichai touted Android’s open ecosystem as enabling innovators to reach vast audiences in ways unimaginable just a decade ago.
Google Antitrust Woes Extend Far Beyond Android
While the San Francisco trial centers on Android and Google Play, Pichai’s back-to-back courtroom appearances underscore far wider antitrust threats looming over the search and advertising giant.
Google faces a mounting barrage of litigation and regulatory actions accusing it of abusing its dominance across core businesses, including online search, digital ads, smartphone software, and web browsers.
Earlier in October, Pichai appeared in Washington to defend Google’s search practices in a landmark antitrust lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and state attorneys general. The DOJ case alleges Google illegally locks out rivals from search partnerships and rigs search results in its own favor.
Google also faces antitrust probes by attorneys general into its digital advertising practices and its control over the technology used to serve ads online. Globally, the company confronts investigations and charges in South Korea, India, Australia, and across Europe.
The cascading threats present Pichai with his biggest crisis since taking the helm in 2015. How Google fares in the Android trial and broader antitrust barrage could shape the future of its business model and Silicon Valley power dynamics for years to come.