Googlers Told to Avoid Words Like ‘Share’ and ‘Bundle,’ US Says

Googlers Told to Avoid Words Like ‘Share’ and ‘Bundle,’ US Says | Enterprise Wired

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Google is currently undergoing a trial in Washington DC, facing accusations from the US government that it illegally maintained a monopoly in the online search business. Government lawyers allege that Googlers has long been aware of scrutiny of its practices and has encouraged employees to avoid creating records of potentially problematic conduct.

“Communicate with Care” Policy

Within Google, employees frequently communicate using Google Chat for internal discussions. The Justice Department asserts that under the “Communicate with Care” policy, Googlers are trained to engage in sensitive conversations with the chat history turned off, ensuring that the conversation is automatically deleted after 24 hours.

During the trial, Justice Department attorney Kenneth Dintzer presented evidence, including an October 2021 chat with Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai. In this chat, Pichai requested a link and also asked to change the chat group’s settings to history off. Dintzer argued that this evidence, along with others, demonstrates that Google deliberately concealed and destroyed documents due to concerns about violating antitrust laws.

Google’s actions in this regard have raised questions about transparency and accountability, especially in an industry where antitrust scrutiny is becoming increasingly common.

Cutting off their air supply

As far back as 2003, Googlers had circulated explicit instructions to employees about avoiding certain phrases that might cast them as monopolists. The instructions emphasized the need to be sensitive about antitrust considerations, both in public and private discussions.

One of the phrases to avoid, according to a memo by Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian in July 2003, was “cutting off their air supply,” a reference to a comment made by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during Microsoft’s antitrust case. Another phrase to steer clear of, as per a 2009 Varian missive, was “market share.” Instead, employees were advised to use the term “query share” when discussing Google’s portion of the search market.

These directives, aimed at fostering caution in communication, have been a part of Google’s efforts to navigate the challenges of antitrust scrutiny and maintain a positive public image. The company’s dominance in the search market, commanding nearly 90% of search queries, has drawn attention from regulatory authorities.

Reflecting the delicate balance

Allegations by the Justice Department and state attorneys general claim that Googlers entered unlawful agreements with other major tech companies, such as Apple, to secure prominent placement for its search tools on widely used electronic devices like smartphones. These agreements allegedly hindered competitors like Microsoft and DuckDuckGo from gaining a foothold in the search market.

While Google’s legal team denies anticompetitive behavior, stating that consumers choose its search engine for its technological superiority, the trial brings to light the challenges faced by tech giants in maintaining compliance with antitrust regulations.

This case serves as a reminder that companies often instruct employees to avoid phrases that could potentially lead to legal or public relations issues, reflecting the delicate balance between corporate communication and legal compliance.

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