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A US judge is questioning Google and the Department of Justice over the conclusion of a market power trial

WASHINGTON (Reuters): U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta peppered the Justice Department and Alphabet’s Google with questions during the first day of closing arguments in the government’s antitrust lawsuit against the internet search leader.

The Justice Department sharply criticized Google in a lawsuit that began on September 12, saying the search engine giant is a monopoly and has illegally abused its power to secure financial benefits. The second day of closing arguments is scheduled for Friday.

The judge noted that during the trial, Microsoft admitted it had not invested enough in mobile search. “It’s not anti-competitive, the fact that Google was smart enough to jump on the mobile bandwagon before Microsoft did,” Mehta said.

The government agreed, but responded that “a mistake by one rival does not mean Google can monopolize this market forever.” Mehta, however, directed difficult questions to Google’s lawyer, wondering whether any competitor could replace Google in mobile phones.

Google’s lawyer, John Schmiddlein, rejected claims that the company had engaged in anti-competitive behavior.

The case brought by the Trump administration was the first of five aimed at curbing the market power of tech leaders.

A second case, against Facebook’s parent company Meta, was also filed during the Trump administration, while Biden’s antitrust authorities brought a second case against Google and cases against Amazon.com and Apple Inc.

During this non-jury trial, Mehta will assess whether Google has violated the law and then, if necessary, consider possible penalties. The decision is expected to be made later this year.

Witnesses from Verizon, Android maker Samsung Electronics and Google itself testified about the company’s annual payments – $26.3 billion in 2021 – to ensure that the search engine was the default search engine on smartphones and browsers and to maintain dominant market share.

In his testimony, Google CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged the importance of making the search engine the default on phones, tablets and laptops to maintain user loyalty, saying, “We definitely see the value.”

Google, in turn, argued that the government was wrong to say it had broken the law to maintain its huge market share, saying its search engine was extremely popular because of its quality and that dissatisfied users could easily switch to the service.

Despite Google’s multibillion-dollar payments and Pichai’s announcement, Google lawyers argue that the default situation has limited value and that users won’t stick around if they’re dissatisfied.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Chris Sanders; Editing by Sonali Paul, Bill Berkrot and Richard Chang)