"While ordinary Americans can get their whole lives exposed in court, a trillion-dollar company is opposed to an accessible public trial and attempting to shroud their own proceedings in secrecy."
Next week, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. is set to begin hearing arguments in what's been described as potentially the most consequential antitrust case in the United States in decades.
Google, the defendant in the high-profile case, doesn't want the public to listen in.
In a hearing ahead of next Tuesday's trial, the tech behemoth's lawyer argued against a motion aimed at allowing the public to access an audio feed of the historic proceedings through a communication platform like Zoom, arguing such an arrangement would be unfeasible from an administrative standpoint.
"I think we're going to have some non-insubstantial chunks or portions of the trial that are going to have to be in closed court," said Google attorney John Schmidtlein, claiming that allowing a public audio feed would make it "really difficult" to prevent the release of sensitive information.
But the American Economic Liberties Project, Demand Progress, the Open Markets Institute, and the Revolving Door Project—the groups that filed the transparency motion—made clear that they are merely "seeking a publicly available audio feed of the unsealed, public portions of the trial."
"Providing an audio feed via a phone line, YouTube, Zoom, or some other medium will not impact the outcome of trial or how the parties prepare for trial, nor will it prejudice the parties in any other manner," the groups wrote in the motion. "Courts routinely allow intervention in similar circumstances, even after lengthy delays."
The judge in the case, Amit Mehta, has yet to decide on whether to allow an audio feed.
"Multiple antitrust trials have been given public online access, from the Microsoft-Activision merger trial to the American Airlines-JetBlue trial," Matt Stoller, director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project,
noted Tuesday. "It's always useful."
The trial is set to begin nearly three years after the U.S. Justice Department and 11 state attorneys general sued Google for "unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets."
Google's parent company, Alphabet, has a $1.7 trillion market capitalization, and the corporation has long been accused of using its power to crowd out competitors, subject users to relentless surveillance, and completely dominate key parts of the Internet, controlling what rises to the top of search rankings and exploiting its monopoly position to favor its own services.
"Google's influence on our economy and our daily digital activities is enormous," Maria Langholz, communications director of Demand Progress, said late last week. "That pervasive monopoly power is now on trial, with the outcome expected to shape how millions of Americans use the internet. At the very least, the public has a right to know what goes on in this trial. We urge the court to recognize these stakes and grant live audio access to the trial proceedings."
Katherine Van Dyck, senior counsel at the American Economic Liberties Project, agreed, noting that "while ordinary Americans can get their whole lives exposed in court, a trillion dollar company is opposed to an accessible public trial and attempting to shroud their own proceedings in secrecy."
Last month, the federal judge presiding over the case allowed the trial to move forward over Google's protests—while tossing out some of the government's accusations.
As The Washington Postreported, "Some of the government's claims, including those put together by a consortium of state attorneys general that argued the way Google designed its search engine page was unfairly harming competitors like Yelp, were dismissed."
But Mehta ruled that "the allegations that Google's overall business practices constitute a monopoly that violates the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act still deserve a trial," the Post added.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai is expected to testify during the trial, as are Apple executives. The Justice Department's lawsuit accuses Google of unlawfully bolstering its search monopoly by "entering into long-term agreements with Apple that require Google to be the default—and de facto exclusive—general search engine on Apple's popular Safari browser and other Apple search tools."
Google controls about 88% of the U.S. search market, according to the Justice Department.
"This is a monumental case against a corporation that stands accused of exploiting Americans using monopoly power," said Andrea Beaty, research director of the Revolving Door Project. "Those Americans deserve to be able to follow the proceedings as they happen. Opening the proceedings is clearly in the public interest, while only Google benefits from closed doors."