Class Action Says Secret Google-Apple Online Search Business Agreement Violates Antitrust Laws

The California Crane School Inc., a for-profit crane operation instructional institution, filed an antitrust class action against Google LLC and Apple Inc. and some of their current and former CEOs on Monday, alleging that the companies colluded to corner the market for online searches. The thrust of the 28-page civil complaint is that Google unlawfully paid more than $50 billion to Apple to ensure that it stayed out of the online search business.

The Northern District of California complaint contends that Google abuses its dominance in the market, controlling 94% of the domestic mobile search engine market and 82% of the domestic computer search engine market as of September 2020. Allegedly, Google’s would-be competitor Apple has stayed out pursuant to an agreement further by alleged secret meetings between the CEOs, profit-pooling, yearly payments from Google to Apple registering in the billions, automatic inclusion of Google search on Apple devices, to the exclusion of other search companies, and agreement not to compete.

The lawsuit also fingers Steve Jobs, the CEO and Chairman of Apple, and Eric Schmidt, the CEO and Chairman of Google as the “architects” of the alleged scheme during the early 2000s. “More recently, the continued combination to eliminate competition between Apple and Google for the search business has been reaffirmed by Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, and Sundar Pichai, CEO and Chairman of Google,” the complaint adds.

The plaintiff says Google and Apple parlayed their power not just to hoard profits, but also to block competition. The filing notes that the companies have incurred billions of dollars in fines because of their anticompetitive behavior.

The lawsuit states claims for relief under the Clayton Antitrust Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act, Sections 1 and 2, for damages and injunctive relief. It also states a claim for fraudulent concealment, arguing that the plaintiff and putative class could not have discovered the scheme any earlier due to the defendants’ intentional cover up. 

The proposed class consists of all individuals and businesses who paid for Google search advertising in the United States since Jan. 1, 2005.

The plaintiff and putative class are represented by Alioto Law Firm and Law Offices of Lawrence G. Papale, among others.