Google CFO Ruth Porat Knocks DOJ Antitrust Suit; Says Search Rivals Could “Break Through” If They Were Good Enough

Ruth Porat, CFO of Google said an antitrust suit the Department of Justice and 11 state attorneys general filed against the search giant last month is meritless.

Google dominates search because it’s what users want, not because rivals can’t get a foothold, she insisted during a Q&A at The New York Times DealBook online summit Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia last month claims Google has cemented its dominance in search by paying to be the default browser on mobile smart phones, and that that harms consumers by quashing competition. It was a landmark legal action at a time when market-dominating tech and social media companies are coming under increased regulatory scrutiny on a number of fronts.

“We don’t believe in the merits of the case. We are very much of the view that people come to us because of the quality of the product,” Porat said. “I think the fact that we are sitting here on Zoom [shows] innovation is everywhere — and [if] you come up with a great product and you are focused on users, you will break through.”

The DOJ said Google pays mobile phone manufacturers carriers and web browser billions of dollars each year from its monopoly search advertising revenues to be the pre-set default search engine. As a result, it accounts for nearly 90% of all general search engine queries in the U.S. — almost 95% on mobile devices.

Asked to comment on Fortnite maker Epic Games’ lawsuit against Apple  (another landmark challenge) and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney’s general crusade against high fees charged by the Apple and Google app stores, Porat was vague: “Having a healthy ecosystems is important and we are very aware of how we support developers.” (Sweeney, interviewed at the same conference, also Wednesday, called Apple’s policies “illegal” and said they have “a huge distorting effect on the digital economy.”)

And queried about YouTube’s efforts on election misinformation, she said, “I am proud of what we’ve done.”

“It’s a relentless effort,” she said. “We’ve hired thousands upon thousands of people who focus on content,” supplemented by machine learning, to ensure “we are anchored in authoritative data that is as objective as possible.”

A NYT story Nov. 10, however, described election misinformation that continued to linger on YouTube – calling it a light-touch approach versus Facebook and Twitter, which have cracked down on false or misleading election content with warning labels and other measures.

Porat’s boss, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, was not asked to join Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, CEOs of Facebook and Twitter, for a grilling by the Sen. Lindsey Graham-led Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing yesterday. Some Democrats suggested the omission was political — because YouTube had not provoked conservatives in the same way by allowing misinformative videos to be viewed and shared without pushback.

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