Google’s CEO took another turn on the antitrust witness stand

Two weeks ago, Google had a big day in Washington. President Biden signed an executive order to create artificial intelligence safeguards that could affect Google’s most important programs, and company Secretary Anthony J. Blinken presented the company with an award for helping Ukrainian refugees and promoting women’s economic security.

Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, spent an entire day testifying at a federal courthouse two miles from the White House, defending his company’s efforts to crush competitors in the search and online advertising markets.

On Tuesday, Mr. Pichai testified again in San Francisco to counter claims by video game company Epic Games that his company violated the law and exercised monopoly power over app developers on Android’s Google Play Store.

Mr. Pichai has become the face of Google’s antitrust court battles on both sides of the country over the past month. His visits to the witness stand underscore the importance of Big Tech leaders being sharp witnesses for their companies at antitrust hearings or hearings on Capitol Hill.

Testifying under oath is a task many tech chief executives will have to undertake in the coming years, as Amazon, Meta and other companies face their own antitrust court battles. Not a task many executives excel at.

Although he has never been called to testify, Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chief executive in the last major tech antitrust case brought by the Justice Department two decades ago, is combative and avoids testimony.

Over the past few years, executives including Mark Zuckerberg and OpenAI’s Sam Altman (and Mr. Pichai) have been asked to testify before Congress on various issues. Mr. Zuckerberg sometimes irritated lawmakers with vague answers, while Mr. Altman appeared to charm senators at hearings this year.

Mr. The main duty of Beggar’s witness stand β€” a low-key and detail-oriented executive β€” is to keep the temperature low under questioning and to be the focal point of Google’s antitrust defense: It’s an innovative company. It maintained its leadership through innovation and hard work rather than illegal monopolistic behavior.

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On Tuesday, Mr. Begging Epic’s attorney Lauren Moskowitz was subjected to aggressive questioning, asking her to give yes or no answers.

That led to at least one small revelation: Mr. Pichai confirmed, and said total fees last year were “over $10 billion.” Ms Moskowitz insisted the figure was at least $18 billion.

Lawyers for Google and Apple fought to keep the figures under wraps Tuesday morning, stressing the need for corporate privacy in both of Google’s tests. Judge James Donato rejected their requests, saying, “It’s not going to fly to come in and say we’re kind of emotional.”

Ms. Moskowitz sought to counter Google’s claim that it could not be considered a monopoly because of its competition with Apple. If so, he argued, why did Apple prioritize it over other companies like Samsung, which he said received a 16 percent share of search revenue from its devices?

“We compete fiercely with Apple at the operating system, smartphone and app store level,” Mr. Pichai said later. “Competition is good for consumers and developers.”

The Justice Department filed its landmark antitrust case against Google in October 2020, arguing that the company’s default-search agreements with phone makers and browser companies helped it illegally maintain a monopoly.

Two weeks ago, Google announced that the 51-year-old Mr. Begging was called to the stand. Instead of sitting in the witness box, Mr. Pichai stood at the lectern for nearly four hours, donning a microphone, as if he were giving a speech at a corporate conference. His handlers said he had to stand because of a sprained lower back.

He talked about his background, getting a pre-order phone in Chennai, India and understanding the power of technology, as he deftly answered questions about his company’s competitive position, its relationship with Apple and the government’s contention that default-search agreements are illegal. .

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Mr. Pichai sought to refute the state attorney’s contention that Google paid Apple billions of dollars a year to keep it out of the search market. He offered a different story, saying his company wanted to be the iPhone’s default search engine because of the “value” of the niche and the need to ensure Apple protects the user experience.

“I felt the deal went well since 2016,” said Mr. said the beggar. “It continues to grow search usage, search revenue.”

In cross-examination, Mr. Pichai repeated the reason for this agreement several times, at one point he said, “I gave all the reasons,” and for a moment he lost his patience.

Chamber of Progress tech lobbyist Adam Kovacevich, who worked at Google for 12 years, said Mr. He said Pichai’s testimony gave the court a high-level view of how the company made strategic decisions.

“He did well,” said Mr. About Pichai’s acting Mr. Kovacevich said. β€œThe biggest thing for me is that when you’re in that position, your first objective is not to be Bill Gates at the Microsoft test. Your number 1 objective should be responsive and reasonable.

Two decades ago Mr. Excerpts from Gates’ contested, videotaped testimony were shown in court. The Microsoft co-founder, antitrust lawyers say, undermined his and his company’s credibility with the judge in the case.

In San Francisco, Mr. Topics ranged from why Pichai wrongly marked the emails as subject to attorney-client privilege (to prevent them from being forwarded) to whether Facebook and Amazon could have offered competition to Google’s Play Store when they had smartphones. ambitions.

“These questions have subtleties,” he said with a smile. “I’ll try to answer your question.”

Several times, Judge Donato, Mr. “Be quiet,” he asked Mrs. Moskowitz, to let Beggar speak.

There will be one big difference between the cases: antitrust trials in Washington don’t have a jury. A decision will be made by a judge. In San Francisco, Mr. Pichai had to appeal to a nine-member jury, which was open to the idea that a giant tech company was exploiting a much smaller outfit. Epic’s chief executive Tim Sweeney is also expected to testify at the hearing.

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Google and Epic declined to comment.

Epic, the maker of the hit game Fortnite, brought a lawsuit against Google in 2020 in an attempt to avoid the 15 to 30 percent fees it owes Google on subscriptions and in-app purchases.

The game developer countered Google and Apple by asking users to pay for in-app transactions directly through Epic. In response, Google and Apple suspended Fortnite from their app stores. Epic claims Google also threatened other companies to drop their contracts with Epic before it was banned from app stores.

Google is facing another judicial antitrust lawsuit accusing it of illegally abusing its monopoly power over technology that serves ads online.

A trial in that case could begin as early as next year, but Mr. It is too early to know if Pichai will be called to testify.

Mr. Pichai tried to prevent Google employees from being distracted by litigation. He encouraged them to “keep doing what you’re doing” and assigned a relatively small number of employees to work on the judicial case β€” hundreds out of more than 180,000.

But Mr. Pichai’s court appearance took time away from his other duties as a company leader, including a plan to restore Google’s lead in the fast-growing AI field.

Mr. In the midst of Beggar’s October testimony, Secretary of State Mr. Blinken did the honors. A few hours later, Mr. Biden hosted the signing ceremony at the White House, but Mr. Beggar’s handlers couldn’t answer yes because there was a chance he was in court when it started.

Richard Kramer, an analyst at Ared Research, a London-based investment research firm, said in an interview. “No CEO wants their time wasted by government lawyers.”

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