The Google Case

An Explanation and Evaluation for Non-Lawyers

Tim Wu
5 min readOct 22, 2020


photo credit Simon Law

This post is meant to explain the Google lawsuit for non-lawyers (and lawyers too), and then give a rough evaluation of the merits, based only what is known publicly. A basic knowledge of the facts is assumed.

Google is accused of violating Section 2 of the Sherman Act, a law passed in 1890 that makes it illegal to “monopolize, or attempt to monopolize” a market or industry.

That law makes it illegal to either obtain a new monopoly, or maintain an existing monopoly, through “exclusionary” or anticompetitive conduct. The two parts of the case, for the Justice Department will be proving that (1) Google has monopoly power, and (2) that it used that power to exclude competitors.

The Justice Department’s accusation is that Google made exclusionary deals with Apple, among others, to make Google their default search engine. In other words, that Google paid off Apple to favor it over any would-be competitor (say, DuckDuckGo, or Bing).

By (strong) analogy it would be as if, say, Budweiser were the beer monopolist, and they paid off every beer store and bar to stock their beer exclusively. And therefore made it near impossible to buy craft beer.

(But wait — don’t beer brands do that? Or at least soft-drinks makers? For example, isn’t Coca-Cola the exclusive provider of soft drinks to McDonalds? The answer is that, if Coca-Cola were a monopolist (it isn’t), and if it locked up a majority of the outlets, it too would be violating the antitrust laws).

Google will, naturally enough, contest every part of the case, beginning with the claim that it has monopoly power. (Its main law firm will probably be Wilson Sonsini, and its main lawyer Susan Creighton, but I’m not 100% sure about that).

Depending on the measurement, Google has an estimated 88% of general search, as compared with Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Yahoo. That number is a tough one to get around. But by my guess, Google will say that general search is not a “market,” because the users searching aren’t actually buying anything. It is true that “search advertising” (the market wherein advertisers bid to reach Google’s users) involves payment. But Google will say that “search advertising” is too narrow to be…



Tim Wu

Professor at Columbia University; author of “The Curse of Bigness,” “The Attention Merchants,” and “The Master Switch;” veteran of Silicon Valley & Obama Admin.