India can’t be mute spectator to ‘historic’ DOJ lawsuit against Google, say Indian IT experts

| Updated: 01 February, 2023 9:05 am IST

India needs to take serious note of the ‘historic’ lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice against Google, says Indian IT experts. Two years after Google came under scrutiny for influencing the US elections, on January 24 the United States Justice Department (DOJ) along with states including New York, California, Colorado and Virginia filed a lawsuit against Google accusing it of illegally monopolizing the $250 Billion U.S. digital ad market. This is first lawsuit filed under the Joe Biden administration.

IT expert Pavan Duggal says India needs to be far more vigilant of what’s happening in the US. “This lawsuit is historic, but India can’t be a mute spectator and wait for US to take decision on something as crucial as this. Indian laws still don’t do enough to rein in intermediaries like Google. We are simply giving them a free pass,” says Duggal.

Earlier, there have been other suits filed by DOJ  against Google.

“Google abuses its monopoly power to disadvantage website publishers and advertisers who dare to use competing for ad tech products in a search for higher quality, or lower cost, matches. Google uses its dominion over digital advertising technology to funnel more transactions to its own ad tech products where it extracts inflated fees to line its own pockets at the expense of the advertisers and publishers it purportedly serves”, DOJ and states said in the lawsuit.

Backing the text of suit, Duggal says today publishers are at the mercy of Google. “Any digital publisher will have to buy the digital ad tools given by Google. The worst thing is Google not only stalls competition, but it diminishes any competitor to irrelevance.”

Google owns many of the most widely-used tools used by advertisers to place and sell ads online. The company’s online advertising operations were largely pieced together through a series of acquisitions, which is a key focus of this lawsuit.

DOJ’s case goes into detail about Google’s acquisition history, calling out specific businesses it wants sold off. The deals date back to company’s 2008 acquisition of DoubleClick, which helps websites sell ad space.

In 2009, Google acquired mobile ad company, AdMob. In 2010, it bought Invite Media. In 2011, Google bought AdMeld. The three companies Google acquired are mobile ad companies used to place and sell ads online.

DOJ says Google, through this extensive control over the market, is able to manipulate advertising prices to its advantage and steer publishers and advertisers to use its ad tools. Google then is able to take an outsize cut of the money, raising costs for advertisers, and lowering revenue for publishers.

Back in India, in November, 2022,  the Competition Commission of India (Commission) imposed a penalty of Rs. 1,337.76 crore on Google for abusing its dominant position in multiple markets in the Android Mobile device ecosystem, apart from issuing cease and desist order. The CCI also directed Google to modify its conduct within a defined timeline.

Smart mobile devices need an operating system (OS) to run applications (apps) and programs. Android is one such mobile operating systems which was acquired by Google in 2005. The CCI in the instant matter has examined various practices of Google w.r.t. licensing of this Android mobile operating system and various proprietary mobile applications of Google (e.g. Play Store, Google Search, Google Chrome, YouTube, etc.)

“CCI in its order had returned a finding that: Google perpetuated its dominant position in the online search market resulting in denial of market access for competing search apps. It was held to be abusing its dominant position in the android OS app store market to protect its position in online general search. The Govt of India is defending the finding of CCI. Hence India is clear that anti competitive business malpractices will not be overlooked,” said Supreme Court advocate Seema Sindhu.

Other than monopolizing digital marketing tools, Google is known to use blacklists and machine learning to sway votes in favor of democrats while downgrading content by Republicans, and conservative websites and publishing houses.

In August of 2019, Senior Google engineer, Zachary Vorhies leaked 950 pages of internal documents providing evidence of Google’s use of blacklisting, censorship, and machine learning algorithms to influence the 2020 US election.

Some major findings and conclusions from the leaks are –

# Google’s fact-check project is a sham. As per Vorhies’, Google’s crusade against so-called “fake news,” was meant to dismiss anything that pro-Trump as fake.

#Google paid for free rides for a get-out-the-vote for Hispanic voters operation — and employees called it a “silent donation” to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in internal emails because they thought it would help her win.

#96% of Google’s employees donated to Democrats during the 2018 U.S. midterm election.

#Project Veritas, a whistleblower non-profit released footage of Google executive, Jen Gennai, discussing “preventing the next Donald Trump situation.” She remarked, “We’re also training our algorithms, like, if 2016 happened again, would we have, would the outcome be different?”

#YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki described how Google uses “machine learning” and “classifiers” to bury “trashy news” and promote “authoritative news.” Machine learning is when algorithms are fed real-world information and learn to make decisions based on the patterns they find. As per a leaked document titled “Fringe ranking/classifier”, Google ranked ABC, CBS, and CNN as more “authoritative” than the “trashy” Fox News and Breitbart. Thus, exposing how big tech manually introduces political bias in search results and its algorithm.

Another study found that Google cost Republican candidates over $2 billion in donations since 2019 by flagging 77% of their fundraising emails as spam. During the same time, Gmail marked less than 11% of Democrat fundraising emails as spam.

India is also vulnerable to these intrusions. “India has 780 million Internet users according to recent estimates and digital penetration is reaching beyond tier 2 cities in India. Digital penetration does have an effect on digital literacy, but to what extent dissemination and push-dissemination of political messaging and posturing can influence voters is a very subjective issue and no one can give an accurate analysis of this,” said Sindhu.

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