Google's top executives have been notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to addressing various topics, including earnings calls, product development plans, and management moves. Legal matters are no exception, as the company currently finds itself embroiled in an antitrust trial with the Justice Department. Now in its third week, this ten-week federal trial remains closed to the public, leaving reporters with limited access.
But don't be fooled by the secrecy that surrounds this trial. This case is of enormous significance, representing the largest of its kind in the tech industry since the DoJ's clash with Microsoft in the 1990s and early 2000s. After years of investigation, the Justice Department alleges that Google leveraged multi-billion-dollar contracts with phone makers like Apple to suppress rival search engines. The potential consequences could range from significant changes to Google's business practices to a potential breakup of the tech giant.
Despite these serious claims, Google maintains that it simply offers the best product and that vendors are free to choose alternative search-engine providers. In his opening statement, Google attorney John Schmidtlein emphasized that companies and consumers opt for Google's popular search engine because it delivers value, not due to any coercion.
When asked for further comment, a company spokesman declined.
Alphabet Inc., Google's parent company, has been withholding information about the contracts involved in a legal case, claiming it is confidential. Both Google and Apple have consistently requested for the courtroom to be sealed. Prior to the opening statements on September 12th, almost two-thirds of Google's motions and responses were kept under seal, according to the New York Times.
Controversy Surrounding U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta has been criticized for granting requests from Google and other interested parties, such as Apple, to conduct testimony behind closed doors. In response, Mehta cited federal attorneys' efforts to resist the ongoing attempts by Google and other tech companies to keep the courtroom sealed. Later on, Mehta encouraged lawyers to ask more questions in public and expressed his desire to unseal closed-session testimony.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation stated in a blog post that "a judge's job isn't to simply accept a party's claim that public access to a trial would cause the sky to fall."
Striking a Balance
The secrecy surrounding this landmark case, which could potentially result in changes to Google's business practices or even its breakup, is not surprising given the high stakes involved.
While a trial should ideally be open to the public, there is a need to strike a balance and afford companies some level of privacy. Lawyer Abiel Garcia acknowledges the tension between Google's desire for user transparency and its reluctance to disclose its own practices.
Respecting Google’s Corporate Secrets: A Closer Look at Mehta's Handling
In a preliminary injunction hearing back in 2015, Garcia attested to the excellent work done by Judge Mehta. Notably, Mehta has displayed the commendable ability to maintain utmost respect for Google's corporate secrets, all the while gradually encouraging a more transparent approach, fostering public questioning, and facilitating key disclosures.
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