Hey Google, Why Is The DOJ Suing You? | Crooked Media
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September 13, 2023
What A Day
Hey Google, Why Is The DOJ Suing You?

In This Episode

  • The government’s antitrust trial against Google kicked off yesterday as lawyers for the Department of Justice gave opening statements in their case. They argued that Google illegally created a monopoly with its titular search engine to squash competitors like Yahoo and Bing. We’re joined by Sara Morrison, senior tech reporter at Vox, to break down the case, why it matters and what comes next.
  • And in headlines: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy ordered a formal impeachment inquiry into President Biden, a federal grand jury indicted the five former Memphis police officers involved in the beating death of Tyre Nichols and the CDC recommended that everyone six months and older get an updated COVID-19 vaccine.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, September 13th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver and this is What a Day. The podcast that’s booking a flight to the town of Anadia, Portugal. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That is because earlier this week, red wine flooded the streets there after storage units burst at a distillery. 


Juanita Tolliver: Which Real Housewife would drink the most of the red wine that’s flowing right now? 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m only familiar with this new season and the one in Utah where like half of them did they even drink? 


Juanita Tolliver: They do drink girl. [laughter] [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy thinks that two can play the impeachment game and he opened an inquiry into President Biden. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yikes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Plus, McDonald’s says that it will get rid of self-serve soda machines in its dining room. Don’t you worry, though, apparently the tech is so complicated that it won’t finish the change for nine years.


Juanita Tolliver: Double yikes. But our top story today, the first big antitrust trial against a big tech company since 1998 is underway right now in Washington, D.C. Lawyers for the Department of Justice gave opening statements in their case against Google yesterday in a packed courtroom. They argue that the company illegally created a monopoly with its titular search engine Google, to squash competitors like Yahoo and Bing. The trial is expected to last about two months, and the verdict will determine whether big tech companies can be held accountable to the nation’s antitrust laws in the modern era of Al Gore’s Internet. So there’s a lot riding on this. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Certainly is also makes me remember the days of maybe being in fifth grade. We were a Yahoo house, like Yahoo was the homepage [laughter] in my home. And then Google– 


Juanita Tolliver: Bless. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –like started to take over and I was like, I’m ready for Yahoo to be back. I want my snippets of the news, I want my little entertainment. And then slowly, slowly, slowly, yeah, Google chipped away at me, but justice for Yahoo, my fifth grade self is like ready to go. But anyways, before we get into this case, can you remind us a little bit about these antitrust laws, what they even are, what they’re for? Help us out here. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. So antitrust laws were put in place to encourage competition in the marketplace and give consumers more options. The DOJ is saying that Google has made itself so dominant in the search engine industry that other companies don’t stand a chance. So it’s really about fairness. 


Priyanka Aribindi: So to break down the basics of this case, why it matters and what we can expect as the trial goes on, we have with us Sara Morrison. Sara is a tech reporter over at Vox, covering all things big tech, data privacy and antitrust. She is also a friend of WAD. Sara, welcome back to the show. 


Sara Morrison: Thanks for having me back. 


Juanita Tolliver: So let’s start with the big picture for folks who know nothing about antitrust laws but know and use Google pretty much every day and probably on every device. What is the DOJ accusing Google of and how strong is their case? 


Sara Morrison: Well, the fact that, as you said, people do use Google probably on every device is what the case is about, pretty much. It basically comes down to uh, you know, which search engine do you use and why? Pretty much 90% of the world, you know, is using Google. So that’s not really in question. The fight is over why. Google says because we’re the best, you know And the DOJ says the problem is that you are paying various companies billions of dollars a year in order to be the default search in everybody’s browser, almost every phone, anything you access the Internet essentially on almost all the time, Google is there. They’re saying, you know, you’ve done this deliberately to make it difficult for other search engines to get in front of people. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, you mentioned pay, and I think the word of the day should be payola, as it was referenced [laugh] in one of the stories I read. But is there anything that has stood out to you in the argument so far now that the case has officially begun?


Sara Morrison: The DOJ is saying, like, we are going to prove this because we have documents and, you know, internal things of Google specifically saying for years that this was a plan to freeze out competitors and, you know, maintain our dominance. That’s the claim they make. If you remember, it was a while ago, the Microsoft case, internal documents from Microsoft, where they said, you know, we want our browser to be the only one in front of people and we’re going to crush or kill our competitors. 


Juanita Tolliver: Wow. 


Sara Morrison: Um. I don’t think Google is saying that, they’re more careful. But that was a very damning thing for Microsoft. And it may be a damning thing for Google. We’ll see.


Priyanka Aribindi: As you referenced, this isn’t the first time the Justice Department has gone after a big tech company. They went after Microsoft in the nineties over their web browser, Internet Explorer. Can you tell us a little bit more about that case, the verdict there and how it compares with this case that we see with Google today? 


Sara Morrison: You know, Microsoft was the operating system that almost everybody used. This is before Apple was really um, you know, had the iPhone, which obviously really put it on the map. So I think it was something like 95% or something of operating systems were Microsoft and Windows. And then you have you know the Internet and consumer Internet coming and you have some companies who have Web browsers which starts to obviously become like the gateway to the Internet, that becomes increasingly important and used. And so Microsoft says, well, we need to have an Internet browser, too. And not only that, but we’re going to bundle it in with Windows so that everybody who has Windows is going to also have this Internet Explorer browser, and it’s going to be really hard to use a different one uh either because we make it basically impossible to remove from our systems and at that point to install another browser, you have to like put in a CD or download it from a very slow Internet so– 


Juanita Tolliver: For our listeners who may not remember, all computers came with a CD ROM at one point. [laughing]


Sara Morrison: Yeah, you all may not have been born yet, but it was a thing. So yeah, the Department of Justice said you are making it too difficult for anybody to compete with you because of your control over an operating system. You don’t even need to have Internet Explorer as part of your operating system anyway. Why’d you do that? And you’ve basically killed off competition. There were companies like Netscape Navigator that you are not using as your browser right now because they essentially don’t exist anymore because of this. Microsoft did lose. The initial verdict was to break them up. Obviously, Microsoft still exists in one piece, so part of that was overturned. They were going to have to go back and do it again, I think parts of it. But basically, you know, we get a new president and then the Department of Justice settles. You notice that you don’t use Internet Explorer anymore. That’s because you didn’t have to. And everybody was like, I actually Internet Explorer sucks. And then, oh, what’s this it’s Chrome from Google. It’s much better. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So let’s talk about the possible outcomes here. What would happen if the DOJ does win this case? 


Sara Morrison: When the DOJ won the Microsoft case, Microsoft was ordered to break up. That’s a very extreme. I think the possibility of that happening is remote. But the Department of Justice has asked for structural remedies. There’s also sort of like less extreme things like you can’t do these default search agreements. If the outcome isn’t the Department of Justices’ favor, then there’s a sort of a remedy hearing where they sort of decide based on, you know, evidence what the best way to fix this is going to be. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And on the flip side, what would happen if Google wins this case? 


Sara Morrison: If Google wins this case and obviously wins through a various appeal processes that they’re going to have, you know, it could show that they’ve done nothing wrong. Obviously, they’ve done nothing wrong according to our antitrust laws as they are. So does that mean there’s nothing wrong with them or does that mean there’s something wrong with our antitrust laws? That is what people will start to really be looking at. Do laws that, you know, were made decades over a century ago to deal with sort of physical goods and services–


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.


Sara Morrison: Can they be applied to this like invisible economy where products are free?


Juanita Tolliver: Now back to a potential positive outcome for the DOJ. If they win this lawsuit, can we expect officials to sue other big tech companies over similar business practices? And which other companies could, as you say in your article, catch a lawsuit? 


Sara Morrison: Well, we can expect it because they already have. This isn’t the only antitrust lawsuit against Google even. There’s also one, I think, from several states and the Department of Justice, I think it’s two different ones over their adtech business. So a different arm of their business that is also far reaching into the Internet. There is another one from the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission against Meta that’s trying to unwind its uh acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. There’s also a lot of rumors from a couple of different outlets, so I think they’re pretty reliable that an FTC case against Amazon is coming like any day now. 


Juanita Tolliver: Ooh. 


Sara Morrison: And there’s also, for a couple of years now, been reports that the Department of Justice is looking into Apple and its app store. So yes, we could expect uh more cases. 


Priyanka Aribindi: For the regular consumers who may not necessarily see like what is the benefit here, may not be watching this closely. Why should they care about this? Like, what effect could this case have on their lives or how they use the Internet? 


Sara Morrison: I mean, I think that’s tricky because a lot of this is about what you don’t have, allegedly because of Google’s practices. So is there another, you know, universe where there’s a better search engine than Google or Google has had to compete to make its own search engine better? Has it gotten complacent because it doesn’t have competition? You know, consumers are, you know, I suppose, being harmed because there isn’t other things out there that would be better. It’s hard to sort of prove a negative or just a thing that doesn’t exist. But again, with the Microsoft trial, you know, after, you know, Internet Explorer, they couldn’t push Internet Explorer on people. We do get a bunch of browsers and Google kind of rises up from those ashes. So maybe there’s a company that’s doing really good, cool things that the outcome of this case could give it, you know, an actual like even playing field. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Sara, thank you so much for joining us. It is always a joy to have you. 


Sara Morrison: It’s a joy to be here. Thank you. 


Juanita Tolliver: That was Vox senior tech reporter Sara Morrison. We’ll link her explainer article in our show notes if you want to read more about the case. But that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]. 




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy yesterday initiated a formal impeachment inquiry into President Biden over his family’s business dealings. Speaking at the Capitol yesterday, McCarthy said he’s directed House committees to open the impeachment inquiry, calling it a, quote, “logical next step.” I don’t know if logic has anything to do with this. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah nope. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But okay. [laugh] This comes after Republicans have investigated the president for months and have not turned up a shred of evidence of wrongdoing. 


Juanita Tolliver: Go figure. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Also worth noting, McCarthy opened the impeachment inquiry on his own without a formal House vote, even though he had previously said that he wouldn’t do that without a vote. The announcement also came as hard line conservatives threatened to oust McCarthy if he failed to take action against Biden. In response to the inquiry, a spokesperson for the White House called the move, quote, “extreme politics at its worst.” And if you happen to be wondering what Democratic Senator John Fetterman had to say about this, take a listen to what he told an NBC journalist. 


[clip of Senator John Fetterman] Oh, my God. Really? Oh, my gosh. You know. Oh, it’s devastating. [laugh] Ooooh, don’t do it. Please don’t do it. 


[clip of unspecified interviewer] Senator. 


[clip of Senator John Fetterman] Oh, no. Oh, no. 


Juanita Tolliver: [laughter] Wow. I am John Fetterman. [laughing]. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. 


Juanita Tolliver: Like that was definitely my reaction. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s incredible. [laugh]


Juanita Tolliver: A federal grand jury yesterday indicted the five former Memphis police officers involved in the beating death of Tyre Nichols. They face four federal charges, one count each of excessive force and deliberate indifference and two counts of witness tampering. This is on top of the second degree murder charges the officers faced from the state, which they pleaded not guilty to. Nichols, a 29 year old black man, was violently beaten earlier this year after a traffic stop and brief foot chase. He died in a hospital three days later from his injuries. And his death spurred protests against police brutality and vigils to honor his life across the country. Body cameras and surveillance footage from Nichols’ arrest were released about two weeks after his death and the officers were terminated from the department shortly after that. In the indictment, prosecutors allege that the officers deliberately tried to keep their body cameras out of view of the beating. These federal charges followed the July launch of a DOJ investigation into the city of Memphis and its police department for its use of force, searches and arrest, as well as discriminatory policing. 


Priyanka Aribindi: An update on the death toll in Libya. Officials estimate that it surpassed 5000 after Storm Daniel caused two dams in the northeastern part of the country to burst. Powerful floodwaters destroyed much of the port city of Derna and carried entire neighborhoods out to sea over the weekend. Officials also estimate that 10,000 people are still missing. Part of the devastation and slow rescue efforts have been blamed on the lack of a singular, stable government. Libya has been rife with war and conflict since 2011, and now two rival governments have been running the North African country. The political chaos has made building stable infrastructure in the country almost impossible, and cities have suffered from disrepair and poor maintenance since. Meanwhile, emergency response teams sent by the United Nations have been mobilized to help on the ground. If you have the means to donate, we have resources to support Libyans linked in our shownotes. Please do what you can to help if you are able to. 


Juanita Tolliver: And now to an update on the vaccine many of us on the WAD squad have been waiting for. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday recommended that everyone six months and older should get an updated COVID shot. CDC advisers met yesterday to review the data and voted 13 to 1 to recommend the shots. And the agency’s director shortly after signed off on the recommendations. That means the new vaccines will likely be available this week, some as soon as today. And if you’re wondering about the price, manufacturers say they’ll charge as much as $129 per dose. That’s still too much, if you ask me. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. 


Juanita Tolliver: Thankfully, most people will be able to get them for free through private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. And the CDC will provide the shots at no cost for the uninsured or underinsured. Tuesday’s move comes one day after the FDA approved vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and a new shot from Novavax remains under review. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That sticker price, that’s just not going to fly. Also in medical news. Grab a tissue for phenylephrine. An FDA panel said yesterday that the drug long found in most over-the-counter cold meds and decongestants is ineffective. 


Juanita Tolliver: Ugh. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Some of the products with that drug include Sudafed PE and DayQuil. So if you have been taking this stuff and wondering why you [laughter] were not getting decongested like me, it’s because that shit didn’t work. The panel said that its decision came after it reviewed recent studies that show that the ingredient doesn’t do much to clear out stuffy sinuses when taken orally. Here is panel member Diane Ginsburg, who is a pharmacy professor at the University of Texas in Austin. 


[clip of Diane Ginsburg] If you’re recommending something that you knowingly know is not effective. To me, it just erodes trust that patients have with us. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Phenylephrine got popular as an over-the-counter drug in the mid 2000s when the original and actually effective decongestant in those meds pseudoephedrine was moved behind the pharmacy counter. That is because the government wanted to regulate its sales so you didn’t get your Walter White on. Pseudoephedrine is the main ingredient to make meth, though if you are sick and congested and need the good stuff, here is a WAD pro-tip go to a pharmacy counter any time, ask for it, show your ID. There are just limits on buying bunches of it in a given time. As for Phenylephrine, the FDA said that it’s still effective if you use it in a nasal spray. However, if the agency takes the next step and revokes its status as a, quote, “safe and effective ingredient,” then oral meds with the drug could be taken off of store shelves. At the moment, the FDA hasn’t indicated if and when it might do that. Also, if you are trying to get your Walter White on, you did not get this advice [laughter] from us. I mean, I don’t think it’ll be that effective. 


Juanita Tolliver: I’m like don’t say it friend, don’t say it. [laughing]


Priyanka Aribindi: But like you didn’t you didn’t hear it from us. 


Juanita Tolliver: And finally, it is with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to McDonald’s self-serve soda machines and dining rooms. The fast food chain said it’s removing them because ever since the pandemic, more and more customers are doing drive thru or delivery, while fewer folks are dining in. And because it wanted to create a, quote, “consistent experience for crews and customers across the burger chain.” The company will be phasing out the soda machines at its U.S. restaurants by 2032, so there is still a long time to get your own refills or, you know, do that thing where you ask for a water cup and fill it up with soda anyways. [laugh] Was that just me? I guess so. [laugh]


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, no, that was everybody. Please if you weren’t doing that, what were you doing? Were your parents just paying for you to have the full soda? Lucky you. 


Juanita Tolliver: Never, never happened. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Never. 


Juanita Tolliver: Never. [laughing] But according to a local Illinois Paper, State Journal Register, some golden arches in the state have already begun the process. And in Orange, California, one location has already axed the self-serve station. And customers must now ask for any refills at the counter. Okay. I feel like McDonald’s really needs to redirect its energies here. Focus on what is actually broken, i.e. the flurry machine. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 


Juanita Tolliver: Fix it. Focus on that please. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. They just shame the hell out of the people who want a refill. Like let them get their refill in peace with dignity. What has happened here? 


Juanita Tolliver: No one should have to ask. But anyway, those are the headlines. [laugh]


Priyanka Aribindi: Two more things before we go. First, a clarification. Yesterday, we said that Portland’s Magic Tavern Club was the second ever unionized strip club in U.S. history. They are actually the second to be unionized currently, a third club was the first to unionize back in 1997. San Francisco’s Lusty Lady, but that club is no longer open. 


Juanita Tolliver: Also, ever find yourself doomscrolling on Instagram? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Literally every day. 


Juanita Tolliver: I mean, clearly. Tune in into this week’s Offline, Jon Favreau and Max Fisher talk about phone addiction and their best practices to stay offline, plus parenting the Internet generation. New episodes every Sunday wherever you get your podcasts. [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, get your refills while you can and tell your friends to listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just wondering if it’s weird to say you Bing’d something like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/Subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And red wine in the streets, Pseudoephedrine in the sheets. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s just how it goes. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, absolutely. I want to lay down after I take pseudoephedrine, don’t you? [laughing]


Priyanka Aribindi: Listen, I’ve never had the good stuff before, but I imagine I would. Well, actually, maybe I wouldn’t because I’d be decongested. It would actually work. 


Juanita Tolliver: Imagine. [laughing]


Priyanka Aribindi: What a concept. 


Juanita Tolliver: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka. [music break].