Google lost an antitrust lawsuit filed by video game maker Epic Games, with a jury finding the tech giant’s mobile phone app store is an illegal monopoly.
The decision is a major blow to the tech giant, which has mostly been able to avoid losing lawsuits and being forced to make changes to its products despite years of investigations into allegations that its practices break competition laws.
The jury’s decision could open up other Big Tech companies to challenges on how they control pricing and payments on their massive internet platforms.
On Monday, a jury here answered yes to each of the 11 questions put to Google, including whether Google has a monopoly in how apps are distributed on Android phones, whether Google broke competition laws in how it ran its app store and whether the company set up special deals with some companies to keep them from building competing app stores of their own.
In January, the judge in the case will rule on how Google will need to change its business to comply with the law.
The decision represents a huge victory for Epic Games, which has fought a years-long war against Google and Apple to try to crack open the control they wield over their app stores – which dictate how billions of people find and download apps on mobile phones.
In 2020, 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. Epic sued both companies, arguing the rules violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Earlier this year, a federal appeals court judge reaffirmed a 2021 lower court decision that ruled against Epic in its lawsuit against Apple, saying that Apple’s app store did not break antitrust laws. But Epic’s case against Google was heard by a jury, and the company dug into payments that Google had made to other companies that were considering building app stores of their own to compete with Google’s.
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 favour Google’s official app store.
The trial featured testimony from a range of Google executives, economists and witnesses from other companies. Pages of internal Google emails were projected on court screens day after day, and Google even got a strict reprimand from the judge for having deleted chats that could have been relevant to the case.
Google’s lawyers argued that the company’s app store is part of its fierce competition with Apple, and therefore shouldn’t be considered a monopoly.
Epic’s lawyers said Google clearly had a monopoly when it came to how people got apps on the billions of Android phones around the world. The jury sided with Epic, and then went on to decide that Google had abused that monopoly.
“We plan to challenge the verdict,” Wilson White, Google vice-president of government affairs and public policy, said in a statement. “Android and Google Play provide more choice and openness than any other major mobile platform.”
“Victory over Google! After 4 weeks of detailed court testimony, the California jury found against the Google Play monopoly on all counts,” Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said on X, formerly Twitter. “Thanks for everyone’s support and faith! Free Fortnite!”
The Washington Post