Nadella versus Pichai in landmark antitrust trial against Google

Nadella versus Pichai in landmark antitrust trial against Google

By Mayank Chhaya-

It is tempting to view the landmark antitrust trial against Alphabet, Google’s parent company, as a slugfest between Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella.

Interestingly, emblematic of how higher Indian American professionals punch above their demographic weight is the fact that it is District Judge Amit Mehta, who will decide the case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, testified against Alphabet and by, indirect implication, its CEO Pichai in what is shaping up to be a trial that goes to the heart of not just who dominates the search market but even how artificial intelligence or AI will influence the space.

Following Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI, there were expectations that the company’s laggard search engine Bing would be hopped up enough to shake Google’s stranglehold. However, Nadella seemed to suggest something precisely to the contrary.

He testified that Google would use its profits from its search engine to notch up exclusive deals with publishers as part of a strategy to train its AI models. This is likely to arrest the growth of Bing and other search engines.

It is remarkable that one powerful Indian American CEO is the most high-profile witness for the government against another powerful Indian American CEO. According to various media reports of his testimony, Nadella called the Internet “Google web” and suggested that even a company like Microsoft valued at $2.4 trillion could find it hard to challenge Google’s dominance.

The government’s overarching case is that Alphabet/Google had managed to strike anticompetitive deals which could easily finish all rivals. While the historic trial, the first of its kind in the age of the internet, is not a personal combat between Pichai and Nadella, in so much as they both head the two tech giants it does end up looking somewhat personal.

It was quite remarkable that with the advent of AI and Microsoft rapid entry into it was expected that the company would begin to gradually chip away at Google’s near total search dominance. However, Nadella was quoted as saying something quite striking during his three-hour long testimony. “Despite my enthusiasm that there is a new angle with A.I., I worry a lot that this vicious cycle that I’m trapped in could get even more vicious,” Nadella said.

Nadella’s tone may not have been defeatist, but he certainly sounded as if he was resigned to Pichai and Google not giving up its control over the market unless the antitrust trial managed to do it.

As an illustration of how direct Nadella was that he described as “bogus” Google’s claim that users could change their search engine whenever they like. He made it sound as if Google search were now a reflexive habit among the users. “You get up in the morning, you brush your teeth, and you search on Google,” he said.

On its part, Google has attributed Bing’s failure to gain ground to its inferior quality. Since its introduction in 2009, according to some reports, it has barely managed three percent of the search market as opposed to over 90 percent by Google, according to StatCounter. Microsoft’s attempts to get Apple to make Bing its default search on iPhone and other devices have not worked. According to Bloomberg, Nadella testified that Apple had used its negotiations with Microsoft to “bid up the price” with Google.

A lot rides on the 10-week-long trial not just for Nadella and Pichai but the tech industry generally.

(Photo credit :US District Court, District of Columbia.)

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