While the world awaits closing arguments later this year in the US government’s antitrust case over Google’s search dominance, a California judge has dismissed a lawsuit from 26 Google users who claimed that Google’s default search agreement with Apple violates antitrust law and has ruined everyone’s search results.
Users had argued that Google struck a deal making its search engine the default on Apple’s Safari web browser specifically to keep Apple from competing in the general search market. These payments to Apple, users alleged, have “stunted innovation” and “deprived” users of “quality, service, and privacy that they otherwise would have enjoyed but for Google’s anticompetitive conduct.” They also allege that it created a world where users have fewer choices, enabling Google to prefer its own advertisers, which users said caused an “annoying and damaging distortion” of search results.
In an order granting the tech companies’ motion to dismiss, US District Judge Rita Lin said that users did not present enough evidence to support claims for relief. Lin dismissed some claims with prejudice but gave leave to amend others, allowing users another chance to keep their case—now twice-dismissed—at least partially alive.
Under Lin’s order, users will not be able to amend claims that Google and Apple executives allegedly sealed the default search deal on the condition that Apple would not create its own general search engine through “private, secret, and clandestine personal meetings.” Because plaintiffs showed no evidence pinpointing exactly when Apple allegedly agreed to stay out of the general search market, these meetings, Lin reasoned, could just as easily indicate “rational, legal business behavior,” rather than an “illegal conspiracy.”
Users attempted to argue that Google and Apple intentionally hid these facts from the public, but Lin wrote that their “conclusory and vague allegations that defendants ‘secretly conducted meetings’ and ‘engaged in conduct to obfuscate internal communications’ are plainly insufficient.”
Sharing bystander photos documenting Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook meeting at a restaurant with a manila folder tucked under Pichai’s elbow did not help users’ case. Lin was also not moved by users demonstrating that Google has a history of destroying evidence, because “they put forth no specific factual allegations that defendants did so in this case.”
However, users will have 30 days to amend currently “inadequately” alleged claims that “Google’s exclusive default agreement, under which Apple set Google as the default search engine for its Safari web browser, foreclosed competition in the general search services market in the United States,” Lin wrote. If users miss that deadline, the case will be tossed with no opportunities to further amend claims.
A lawyer representing users did not immediately respond to Ars’ request to comment. A Google spokesperson declined to comment.