July 16, 2024


The Intersection of Information and Insight

Google’s App Store Ruled an Illegal Monopoly, as a Jury Sides With Epic Games

2 min read

More bad news for Google could come in mid-2024 when US district judge Amit Mehta in Washington, DC, is expected to issue his ruling on whether Google has unlawfully maintained its monopoly over web search. Testimony in that case, which was brought by the US Department of Justice and attorneys general for nearly every US state and territory, concluded last month.

A similar case two years ago had not gone too well for Epic. In Epic v. Apple, a federal judge in Oakland, California, ordered that Apple make just one change to its App Store practices. The judge found that most of the other Apple practices that Epic viewed as anticompetitive were justified, because the iPhone maker needed to recoup its investment in developing the app marketplace. Apple still has not had to comply as it awaits the Supreme Court’s decision early next year about whether to review the case.

Google hasn’t said much about why it chose to have a jury rather than a judge decide its fate in the trial that concluded today, though it tried unsuccessfully to reverse course on the eve of jury selection.

Judge Donato also tried to prevent the case even going to trial, ordering several times for Epic and Google to attempt to settle instead. In a last-second push, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney met for an hour on December 7 but failed to reach a deal, according to a court filing.

Google previously agreed to settle with as many as 48,000 app developers but without making major changes to its business practices. It also settled with a group of consumers and attorneys general for all 50 US states. Details of the latter settlement had not been published, pending the verdict in the Epic trial.

‘Shut Rivals Off’

In closing arguments today, Gary Bornstein, an attorney for Epic, told jurors that Google’s Android operating system was the only choice for smartphone makers, because Apple keeps iOS to itself and there aren’t any viable alternatives. Google used that power with device makers and wireless carriers who sell phones to ensure they promoted the Play store, he said, often more than they encouraged the lesser-known alternatives.

Google binds app developers who sell digital items in the Play store to use its billing system and pockets up to 30 percent of sales. The search giant also paid developers millions of dollars not to pursue alternatives to Play, Epic alleged.

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