Judge rules against users suing Google and Apple over “annoying” search results


As the world awaits final arguments later this year in the U.S. government's antitrust case over Google's search dominance, a California judge has dismissed the lawsuit from 26 Google users who claimed the search agreement by Google's default with Apple violated antitrust law and ruined everyone's search results.

Users had argued that Google entered into a deal making its search engine the default search engine on Apple's Safari web browser, specifically to prevent Apple from competing in the general search market. These payments to Apple, the users claim, have “delayed innovation” and “deprived” users of the “quality, service, and privacy they would otherwise have enjoyed without Google's anticompetitive behavior.” They also say it has created a world in which users have fewer choices, allowing Google to prefer its own advertisers, which users say has caused an “annoying and harmful distortion” of search results.

In a order Granting the tech companies' motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Rita Lin said the users had not presented enough evidence to support requests for relief. Lin dismissed some claims with prejudice, but gave permission to amend others, giving users another chance to keep their case (now rejected twice) at least partially alive.

According to Lin's order, users will not be able to edit claims that Google and Apple executives entered into the default search deal on the condition that Apple does not create its own general search engine by the through “private, secret and clandestine personal meetings”. Because the plaintiffs have shown no evidence indicating exactly when Apple agreed to stay out of the general search market, these meetings, Lin explained, might as well indicate “rational and legal business behavior” rather than an “illegal conspiracy”.

The users tried to argue that Google and Apple intentionally hid these facts from the public, but Lin wrote that their “vague and conclusory allegations that the defendants 'conducted meetings in secret' and 'engaged in conduct aimed at obscuring internal communications” are clearly insufficient.

Sharing photos of passersby documenting the meeting of Google's Sundar Pichai and Apple's Tim Cook at a restaurant with a cardboard folder hidden under Pichai's elbow didn't help the users' case. Lin was also unmoved by users demonstrating that Google has a history of destroying evidence, as “they have not presented any specific factual allegations that the defendants did so in this case.”

However, users will have 30 days to amend the currently “inadequate” claims that “Google's exclusive default agreement, under which Apple set Google as the default search engine for its Safari web browser, excluded competition in the general market for research services in the United States. “, Lin wrote. If users fail to meet this deadline, the case will be closed without the possibility of further amending the claims.

A lawyer representing the users did not immediately respond to Ars' request for comment. A Google spokesperson declined to comment.



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