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Epic v. Google: everything we’re learning live in Fortnite court

The future of Google’s app store is at stake in a lawsuit by Fortnite publisher Epic Games. Epic sued Google in 2020 after a fight over in-app purchase fees, claiming the Android operating system’s Google Play store constituted an unlawful monopoly. It wanted Google to make using third-party app stores, sideloaded apps, and non-Google payment processors easier — while Google said its demands would damage Android’s ability to offer a secure user experience and compete with Apple’s iOS.

On December 11th, the jury ruled in Epic’s favor, finding that Google has turned its Google Play app store and Google Play Billing service into an illegal monopoly, answering yes to every question in front of them about Google’s monopoly power, anticompetitive behavior, and the illegal ties between the different parts of its business.

Follow along with all of our updates below.

  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “One time we launched a tablet which didn’t have all the compelling apps that Apple had, and it was listed as a shortcoming and affected our success in the market.”

    Google CEO Sundar Pichai admitting one of Google’s many failed tablets over the years in order to help build a market definition that Google competes with Apple rather than other Android-based companies.

    Pichai also says that “Samsung gets to keep the profit from these phones” and that “we give revshare not just to Samsung, but to telecom carriers in certain cases who take the product to market, which is not true in Apple’s case.”

    He says Android makes smartphones more affordable than Apple does as well.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “Android was the first to design larger phones, now it’s the first to design foldable phones... all these innovations help attract developers to it.”

    Part of Pichai’s answer to a question about how Google helps the Android ecosystem compete with Apple. The first part began, “We’ve made it rich for developers to write applications.”

    Pichai says (after being led) that the board of directors listening to presentations like the one about Play’s operating profit “has full context.”

    “They understand that this is the view from a Google Play-based standpoint, because that’s the only cost the Google Play team can directly control.”


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “There were rotary dial phones, we waited years to get access to one, and getting access to that phone changed our lives.”

    Google has begun its questioning of its own CEO by pointing out the value it has brought to the world and his own relatively humble background growing up in Chennai in the south of India.

    He got to mention Android Go, an effort to bring Android phones to more of the world, and how Google Play efforts include the “security and safety of the platform.”

    He’s now suggesting developers on Google Play pay 15 percent or less, and yet: “We invest 10s of thousands of engineers to build Android, which we provide free of charge to OEMs around the world and I think the model serves our mission.”


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Google Play was “one of the most profitable businesses” in the world in the first half of 2020.

    In a July 2020 presentation to the Alphabet board of directors, Pichai confirmed today, Google Play had a 65 percent operating margin, for a $4.4 billion operating profit in H1 2020. That was 33 percent up compared to H1 2019.

    Play was “one of the world’s most largest commerce platforms with >250M people transacting in a year, and also one of the most profitable businesses (>60% margin) and a key contributor the Alphabet P/L,” a presentation slide reads.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Sure enough, Epic’s attempting to show Sundar’s hypocrisy.

    “We definitely had concerns at that time yes,” says Pichai, after Epic’s attorney brings up how he penned a 2009 blog post suggesting Microsoft had an unfair advantage with Internet Explorer because it was tied to the operating system.

    Yet Google requires effectively all Android phones to preinstall Google Play, set it on the default homescreen, and keep users from deleting it with its MADA contracts.

    Earlier today, Epic asked, “Currently today, there’s not a single OEM selling a phone that hasn’t signed the MADA, right?” Pichai answered yes — while noting some OEMs have tried in the past.

    Epic pointed out that they tried and failed. “Because consumers value what we provide with the MADA,” Pichai answered.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    In case you’re just joining us.

    Hey! I’m Sean Hollister, and I’ve been live in the courtroom for Epic v. Google since Monday of last week. What’s going on? These might help:

    👉 A quick primer to the whole trial

    👉 What we’re doing here today

    👉 Our bingo cards: so far, we’ve hit MADA, RSA, Sideloading, Right on the Homescreen, OEMs, Fake Privilege, and CHATS!


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Epic is still chasing web apps with Sundar on the stand.

    On October 28th, 2013, Google’s Joe Marini privately suggested that “Google isn’t doing a very good job of promoting the web store,” writing:

    Unlike other app platforms such as IOS and Android, where their respective stores are the “only game in town” to get content for those platforms, it is entirely possible to live a happy life as a Chrome user without ever having to visit the store. As a result, we have to work harder to draw users in, but our existing marketing efforts don’t do anything to mention the store.

    Will Epic try to suggest this influenced Google’s later thinking? We’ll find out after a 15-minute break.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “You just went to a website and used it.”

    It seems Epic is trying to draw a difficult link between 1) Google not having a scary “Unknown Sources” install flow for its Chrome Web Store — and offering a low 5 percent fee — and 2) what’s happening with Android sideloading.

    “This is apples and oranges, right?” says Pichai. “There was no downloading of a web application; you would just go to the site and use it.” This is basically true: web apps are a thing.

    We’re watching an ancient video of young Pichai announcing that web store’s payments functionality. (He used to be in charge of Chrome, before he rose up the ranks.)


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “So a user going to AmazonAppStore.com is treated exactly the same as I’ll-steal-your-info.com?” Yes, says Pichai.

    “That’s right. We don’t distinguish between the URLs,” says Google’s CEO.

    We’re talking about sideloading friction, which Epic argues (and Google admitted internally) kept a sideloaded version of Fortnite from being financially viable.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “Friction can have benefits, but yes.”

    Pichai says yes, its Unknown Sources warnings do create friction for those who want to sideload apps on Android instead of downloading them from the Play Store.

    Check “sideloading” on your bingo card.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Pichai admits Google pays Apple a 36 percent revenue share for search results.

    Google’s CEO is not trying to deny or steer that it shares 36 percent of mobile search revenue with Apple in exchange for iPhone default search and pays as much as $18 billion for it in total a year.

    Epic did not get Pichai to admit that it pays Samsung half as much for search defaults at 16 percent. Pichai says that for Samsung phones, Google pays the carrier, too.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “It might impact their sales, so I don’t think practically that they would.”

    That’s Google CEO Sundar Pichai, changing his answer to the court about whether OEMs would really put Google Play right on the homescreen if they weren’t contractually obligated by Google’s MADA contracts. He also got in a mention of competing with Apple.

    In an earlier deposition, he told the court they might place it elsewhere. “I would assume so, yes.”


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Pichai says he was “aware” of Amazon and Samsung making moves on Google Play but was not “concerned” about Facebook.

    Epic: “You have no evidence that Facebook was trying to launch an app distribution platform on Android?”

    Pichai: “Not that I was concerned about.”

    Also, check “MADA” and “Right on the homescreen” on your bingo card; Moskowitz said the first, and something that’s so close to the second that I’ll allow it.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Did Pichai want to “revisit the rules” so rivals wouldn’t “take our ecosystem away?”

    Pichai has been presented with a typed summary of a meeting between him and other Android leaders on April 16th, 2013 — where he suggested the following (as paraphrased by Google that week):

    Should we revisit the rules, now we aren’t an upstart open source os? Not that we should stop anything we are doing right now, but over next two weeks take the time to step back and look at the overall situation. Nightmare scenario is we lose control of Android ... can’t take what we have here for granted.”

    These were some of Android leader Hiroshi Lockheimer’s two cents:

    How do we prioritize and sequence thing (sic) so we don’t lose control. The world is a different place back in 2007, and now there are companies that want to take our ecosystem away.”


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Mark “OEMs” on your bingo card.

    We’re not 100 percent sure what Epic attorney Moskowitz is driving at quite yet, but she’s repeatedly asking Pichai questions about how OEMs work — and if smartphone manufacturing OEMs have the ability to preinstall their own apps.

    So far, he’s saying yes. It’s too early for anybody to have a BINGO quite yet, but we’re moving swiftly!


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “That’s how the product works, and I understand how the product works.”

    Pichai continues to insist that it was a glitch.

    Epic is moving on to different questions now.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “I would expect employees to uphold those instructions.”

    Pichai roundabout agrees with Epic lawyer Moskowitz’s question that, as far as he knew, Google was preserving all its relevant chats following legal holds.

    Now, he’s being presented with that time he asked for history off himself (see below), meaning that the rest of the conversation was automatically deleted after 24 hours due to Pichai’s request. He says he was working on a document for an external event.

    Moskowitz is pointing out that Pichai didn’t just ask for history off — he also seemingly attempted to delete his request, which makes him look guilty.

    He says he didn’t recall deleting it and is attempting to suggest it was a glitch.


    A screenshot from an exhibit from the case showing Pichai asking somebody to turn off chat history.
  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    In 2008, Google intentionally decided to make chats “off the record” by default to avoid them being “used against you or us in ways you wouldn’t expect.”

    Pichai is being grilled about a September 16th, 2008, email from Bill Coughran where he announces the change:

    To help avoid inadvertent retention of instant messages, we have decided to make “off the record” the Google corporate default setting for Google Talk. 

    However, Epic is not highlighting one very relevant passage further down the email:

    If you’ve received notice that you’re subject to a litigation hold, and you must chat regarding matters covered by that hold, please make sure that those chats are “on the record”. 

    Pichai admits that Google kept this default setting ever since; he says he relies on the judgment of Google’s legal and compliance teams — especially Google chief legal officer Kent Walker.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Pichai admits he didn’t change his default auto-delete chat settings to preserve evidence.

    “With respect to this case, you personally did not do anything to turn history on for your 1:1 and group chats, yes?”

    He did not. Mark “CHATS” on your bingo card.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Google CEO Sundar Pichai admits he used fake legal privilege.

    He says he marked documents attorney / client privilege even when he was not seeking legal advice — “just so the emails weren’t forwarded.” Has anyone told you that is wrong? “Not that I recall.”

    Do you understand sitting here today that you should not be doing that? “Yes.”

    You can mark “Fake Privilege” on your bingo card, folks.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “You are directly or indirectly responsible for all business decisions at Google, correct?”

    He says that’s correct — and that he was head of Android and Google Play apps businesses before he became CEO, too.

    “Is it fair that for the last 10 years you’ve been responsible for Android and Google Play?”

    He says he had subordinates, but yes.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “Your honor, Epic calls Sundar Pichai.”

    He’s here, and as in the US v. Google trial, he’s literally taking a stand — behind the podium that Google requested last week.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    “It is perfectly fair for Epic to say how big a competitor you can be when you’re getting money from each other.”

    That’s Judge James Donato — he’ll be allowing Epic to say later today how much revenue Google shares with Apple for searches conducted in Safari.

    (It’s 36 percent.)


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Confirmed: Sundar Pichai is about to take the stand in Epic v. Google.

    He will be the first witness called today, says Epic attorney Lauren Moskowitz. Right now, Epic and Google are arguing over whether a public blog post written by Pichai should be entered into evidence. Google lead attorney Glenn Pomerantz argues that the blog post, which references the Microsoft antitrust trial of the ’90s, will be a distraction and is irrelevant to today’s case.

    Moskowitz claims it’s crucial. I believe they’re referring to this Google blog post. The judge is allowing it for now.


  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 14, 2023

    Sean Hollister

    Here are your bingo cards for Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s Fortnite testimony

    A bingo card with terms from the Epic v. Google trial, explained in the post.
    We cut Peely the Banana — he’s been pretty absent so far.
    Illustration: Cath Virginia

    The Epic v. Google trial is absolutely chock-full of intriguing lingo, so we couldn’t resist — we whipped up a custom set of bingo cards to make your trial live blog experience that much sweeter.

    Here are four bingo cards to get started with; you can click to enlarge and save whichever strikes your fancy.

    Read Article >