What We Learned Last Week at the Google Search Trial: Amid Intense Competition, Google Innovates to Benefit Consumers
In the eighth week of the DOJ’s case against Google, Google CEO Sundar Pichai began by highlighting Google’s dedication to innovation and users, followed by a number of Google executives and partners who testified about Google’s benefit for consumers and the competitive landscape.
1. Google’s partners choose Google because it’s helpful
– Mozilla CEO Baker testified that Mozilla chose Google as the default search engine because of its “miraculous” quality. She noted how consumers revolted when Mozilla switched to Yahoo as its default search engine as “the search experience that Yahoo was providing to Firefox users deteriorated.” Even she grew “frustrated,” switching back to Google for “more accurate results and a superior user experience.”
– Baker confirmed that she and Mozilla are “big on choice” as “a key principle of their [Mozilla’s] search philosophy to make it easy for users to pick a different search if they want it and reject exclusivity,” demonstrated by Mozilla’s revenue share arrangements with Bing, Yandex and others and the browser’s easy dropdown of rivals that includes Bing, Amazon, DuckDuckGo, and Twitter.
– Baker also testified that she feared that Mozilla might be forced into a “death spiral” if forced to partner with Microsoft who has “no history of MSFT being generous” – noting that “when MSFT has power of market, it is not good partner, overrides user choice, makes it harder to use Firefox, and harder for people to switch from Bing.”
2. Google succeeds because of its relentless focus on users and quality
– “If you do the right thing for the user, all other things will follow,” said Google Senior VP of Learning and Sustainability, Ben Gomes about Google’s approach to quality. The former head of Search, he recalled taking search queries, “printing them out and pasting up the results on the wall and getting people to walk around them and look at the results, try those queries, see what could be better for each of those queries.”
– Google’s Gomes offered up an anecdote showcasing Google’s focus on enhancing Google Voice quality: “I was once in a cab where a person with a much heavier accent than I did was using the phone. And  I said: ‘It understands you?’ He said: ‘Yes.” He said: ‘People don’t understand me, but Google does.’”
– According to Virginia Tech Computer Science Professor Edward Fox, user data accounts for less than 3% of Google’s quality edge over Microsoft Bing, proving that Google’s quality comes from innovation, not user data. “[I]f you take Google’s system and you shrink the amount of data it has – user interaction data down to the level that Bing has, then you get – 2.9 percent of the gap between the two is explained by that change, that amount of user interaction data.” And regarding Microsoft Bing’s own scale, Fox noted “48 billion queries is an awful lot of data.”
3. Google’s accelerated the pace of innovation, spurring competition and benefiting consumers
– Google’s CEO Pichai reminded the court how Google has “Improved the Web for All Consumers” and accelerated the pace of innovation. Google’s Chrome browser challenged the “stagnant” incumbent, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Pichai testified that Chrome “releases a new version of the product every six weeks. Before Chrome, Internet Explorer used to release a new version once every one to two years. We changed the product cycle to once every six weeks.”
4. Search is an evolving and competitive landscape
– Google VP and General Manager of Search Liz Reid testified how search habits are changing. “[W]e are increasingly seeing people, especially our younger users, will go and use, actually, the search boxes on Instagram and TikTok.” Her testimony evidenced how these habits are “likely to influence how people older than 25 would actually start to use technology in the coming years.”
– “There’s so much left to be done, there’s so much innovation to be had,” affirms CEO Pichai. “The founders of Google used to say search was 1 percent solved. I have to say, early on I was skeptical, I thought the product worked well. But over time, I have definitely come more to their view that there’s so much left to be done, there’s so much innovation to be had. Now with artificial intelligence, I think we are again in the early stages of completely rethinking what’s possible for our users. Our users are going to demand that, too. So I definitely feel we are less than one percent done.”