Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Google CEO Sundar Pichai departs federal court on October 30, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

'Major' Antitrust Win as Jury Deems Google App Store an Illegal Monopoly

"This decision will fundamentally reshape Google's monopoly," said one antitrust advocate.

A federal jury ruled Monday that Google's highly profitable Android app store is an unlawful monopoly, a landmark antitrust decision that one observer hailed as "a message that justice can prevail in the fight against Big Tech's outsized power over our lives."

The ruling stemmed from an antitrust lawsuit brought by Epic Games, a video game maker that accused Google of using its dominant market position to crush competition and drive up fees for app developers.

The Google Play Store has become one of the tech giant's most profitable businesses, despite company executives' previous claims that the platform "would not be a profit center."

In a statement following Monday's decision, Epic Games said that "over the course of the trial we saw evidence that Google was willing to pay billions of dollars to stifle alternative app stores by paying developers to abandon their own store efforts and direct distribution plans, and offering highly lucrative agreements with device manufacturers in exchange for excluding competing app stores."

"These deals were meant to cement Google's dominance as the only app store in town—and it worked. More than 95% of apps are distributed through the Play Store on Android," the statement continued. "The evidence presented in this case demonstrates the urgent need for legislation and regulations that address Apple and Google strangleholds over smartphones, including with promising legislation in progress right now with the Digital Markets, Competition, and Consumer Bill in the U.K. and the Digital Markets Act in the E.U."

Lee Hepner, an attorney for the American Economic Liberties Project, toldThe Wall Street Journal that "it's a big deal that a jury is saying, 'Yes, Google has a monopoly and it has illegally maintained a monopoly."

"A jury was readily able to call a spade a spade," said Hepner.

"This is a major victory in the fight against one of Google's most profitable monopolies."

Monday's win for Epic Games caps off a yearslong legal battle that the company waged against Apple and Google, which is also currently facing a historic antitrust case brought by the U.S. Justice Department.

In 2020, as The Washington Postreported Monday, "Epic revolted against Apple and Google's payment-sharing systems for app developers by tweaking its popular Fortnite app so users could pay Epic directly."

"First Apple, then Google, booted Fortnite from their app stores for violating their rules," the Post noted. "Epic sued both companies, arguing the rules violated the Sherman Antitrust Act... Unlike Apple, Google allows people to download apps onto phones running its Android operating system without going through its official app store, but the company strikes deals with phone manufacturers to favor Google's official app store."

A federal appeals court earlier this year ruled against Epic Games in the Apple case, and Epic Games has asked the Supreme Court to take up the case.

In January, an Obama-appointed federal judge will determine the extent to which Google will have to alter its business in response to the jury decision.

Katherine Van Dyck, a senior legal counsel at the American Economic Liberties Project, urged the judge to "craft a strong remedy to ensure that app markets are open, accessible, and competitive for honest businesses across the tech industry."

"This is a major victory in the fight against one of Google's most profitable monopolies," Van Dyck said of Monday's ruling. "A jury of 9 has found that Google's sweetheart deals, bribes, and monopoly profits are illegal."

"Epic's decision to forgo monetary damages and instead pursue injunctive relief," Van Dyck added, "all but ensure that this decision will fundamentally reshape Google's monopoly, which it has leveraged to exploit app developers and stifle innovation."

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