Android gives Google a search monopoly? Not so fast, says judge

More facts needed before class-action suit can proceed

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A US District Court judge has cast doubt on an antitrust lawsuit filed against Google, describing the damages sought as "speculative."

The class-action suit filed earlier this year alleges that Google engages in illegal anti-competitive behavior by requiring makers of Android smartphones to bundle its search app on their devices.

That bundling effectively shuts out rival search engines from bidding for premium app placement on handset home screens, the suit claims, which keeps the prices of smartphones artificially high.

But in a hearing on Thursday, Judge Beth Labson Freeman of the US District Court of the Northern District of California said she would most likely dismiss the suit because its legal theory is too vague, Reuters reports.

"The speculative nature of the damages is really quite concerning to me," the judge reportedly said, though she added that she would give prosecutors the opportunity to present additional facts to substantiate their case.

The lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of anyone in the US who purchased an Android phone, claiming they were harmed by distribution agreements that require manufacturers to include Google's search app with their handsets.

"Instead of finding a way to legitimately out-compete other internet and mobile search providers, [Google] instead decided to choke off competition through this cynical, anti-consumer scheme," lawyers representing the plaintiffs said in a statement in May.

But Google has argued that consumers are free to use whichever search app they want, and in court on Thursday, attorneys representing the online giant said the case should be chucked out because the plaintiffs had not presented any evidence that handset makers even wanted to use a different default search app.

The plaintiffs, on the other hand, argue that most consumers don't know how to change the default settings on their phones, or can't be bothered, which unfairly tips the balance in Google's favor.

Should the case go forward, it would set in motion an extensive – and likely expensive – discovery process, in which plaintiffs would be able to request access to Google internal documents and interview company executives under oath.

That seems to be what concerns Judge Freeman, who said on Thursday that plaintiffs would need to present more facts in their case "before I open the floodgates." ®

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