The most powerful government in the world versus the most powerful Internet company in the world — that, in a nutshell, is the legal thriller of the United States vs Google, which began yesterday. In this non-jury trial, the person who will take the final decision on whether or not Google is guilty of trouncing the competition by spending billions is Indian-origin judge Amit Mehta, appointed by former US President Barack Obama.
This buzz around the huge case has put the spotlight as much on Mehta as on Google, which stands accused by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) of spending USD10 billion a year to get its search engine pre-installed on devices. By doing this, Google is allegedly putting its competitors at an unfair disadvantage and depriving consumers of choice by creating a monopoly, which is the definition of anti-trust under the US law.
Though the case hearing began yesterday, Mehta’s role as the judge had been announced nearly three years ago. On October 22, 2020, the news agency Associated Press (AP) reported: “The Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Google has a judge: Obama appointee Amit Mehta, who was assigned the case on Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.”
Who is US vs Google judge Amit Mehta?
● He was born in India, in Patan, Gujarat, in 1971 but moved to the US as an infant with his parents. His graduation was from the prestigious Georgetown University, and he earned another degree later from the University of Virginia School of Law.
● As a professional, he has worked in both private law firms and public entities, such as the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. During his time at the Washington DC law firm Zuckerman Spaeder, Mehta handled criminal defence and business disputes. There, his clients included former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, accused of rape.
● Mehta was picked by the Obama Administration for the US District Court for the District of Columbia in December 2014; he was sworn in the following year.
● He is very much into hip-hop — Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, and Eminem are among his favourites, according to AP — and his knowledge of the music genre helped the judge give a verdict in a 2015 copyright case involving two songs.
● In May 2023, Mehta was in the news for handing down an 18-year prison sentence to Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right militia Oath Keepers. The pro-Trump convict had tried to overthrow US President Joe Biden through the US Capitol attack in early January 2021.
What is the US vs Google anti-trust case?
Court proceedings yesterday were started by Jonathan Kanter, DoJ head of anti-trust, who told judge Mehta that the Department of Justice intended to establish how Google, since 2007, had been “weaponising” its power, by becoming the default search engine on mobile devices. This has been done allegedly by spending an estimated USD10 billion annually, money given to device makers to offer Google products as bundled apps.
DoJ witnesses include Hal Varian, former chief economist at Google; and Sridhar Ramaswamy, co-founder of Neeva, a search engine that is now defunct.
The testimony of these individuals is meant to establish that Google crushed its competition in search engines and, thus, prevented technology innovations from reaching consumers.
Google witnesses include CEO Sundar Pichai, other senior company executives, and former and present employees from device-maker giants such as Apple and Samsung.
One of the elements of this anti-trust lawsuit pertains to whether or not Google has a “duty to deal” with Microsoft and to integrate the ads of Microsoft’s AI-powered search engine Bing into Google’s search engine marketing (SEM) tool SA 360. Arguments on this aspect were presented by William Cavanaugh, a lawyer representing the State of Colorado, and John Schmidtlein, lawyer for Google.
Incidentally, Microsoft itself was sued by the US Department of Justice in 1998 for misusing its dominant position. At the time, the DoJ alleged that Microsoft was making it difficult for people to instal software from other companies on machines run by the MS operating system.
Reporting on yesterday’s hearing in the US vs Google case, the news website CNN.com quoted DoJ lawyer Kenneth Dintzer as telling the court, “This case is about the future of the Internet, and whether Google’s search engine will ever face meaningful competition.”
Hearings are expected to continue over several weeks, as the issue is complex, the witnesses are many, and the implication of the final verdict will be huge.