Google’s App Store Ruled an Illegal Monopoly, as a Jury Sides With Epic Games

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Google violated antitrust laws through deals that stifled competition for its Play mobile app store, a jury in San Francisco unanimously found today. The verdict delivers the first significant US courtroom loss for big tech in the years-long campaign by rivals, regulators, and prosecutors to tame the power of internet gatekeepers.

The lawsuit next moves to a remedies phase, meaning a judge as soon as the coming weeks will hear arguments about and decide whether to order changes to Google’s business practices. Users of devices powered by Google’s Android operating system could find more app options to choose from, at lower prices, if Google is forced to allow downloads of rival app stores from Play or share a greater portion of sales with developers selling digital items inside their apps.

The ruling came in a case first filed in 2020 by Epic Games, known for its blockbuster game Fortnite and tools for developers, and argued before a jury since early November. The jury of nine—a tenth juror dropped out early in the trial—deliberated for three hours before reaching its verdict. They faced 11 questions such as defining product and geographic markets and whether Google engaged in anticompetitive conduct in those areas.

Epic had accused Google of restricting smartphone makers, wireless carriers, and app developers from providing any competition to the Play store, which accounts for over 95 percent of all downloads onto Android phones in the US.

Google had denied any wrongdoing, saying that its sole aim was to provide a safe and attractive experience to users, especially as it faced competition from Apple, its iPhone, and its App Store.

Google and Epic did not have immediate comment.

More bad news for Google could come in mid-2024 when US district judge Amit Mehta in Washington, DC is expected to issue his ruling on whether Google has unlawfully maintained its monopoly over web search. Testimony in that case, which was brought by the US Department of Justice and attorneys general for nearly every US state and territory, concluded last month.

A similar case two years ago had not gone too well for Epic. In Epic v. Apple, a federal judge in Oakland, California ordered that Apple make just one change to its App Store practices. The judge found that most of the other Apple practices that Epic viewed as anticompetitive were justified, because the iPhone maker needed to recoup its investment in developing the app marketplace. Apple still has not had to comply as it awaits the Supreme Court’s decision early next year about whether to review the case.

Google hasn’t said much about why it chose to have a jury rather than a judge decide its fate in the trial that concluded today, though it tried unsuccessfully to reverse course on the eve of jury selection.

Judge Donato also tried to prevent the case even going to trial, ordering several times for Epic and Google to attempt to settle instead. In a last-second push, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney met for an hour last Thursday but failed to reach a deal, according to a court filing.

Google previously agreed to settle with as many as 48,000 app developers but without making major changes to its business practices. It also settled with a group of consumers and attorneys general for all 50 US states. Details of the latter settlement had not been published, pending the verdict in the Epic trial.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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