Alphabet CEO Pichai to testify in Google Play trial Tuesday

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc., speaks during the CEO Summit of the Americas hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, California, US, on Thursday, June 9, 2022. President Biden announced what he called the “Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity” as he opened the summit yesterday, a series of non-binding agreements that he said would help the Western Hemisphere’s nations rebound more quickly from the pandemic and share in US growth. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Kyle Grillot

Alphabet Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai is set to face a jury next week to defend Google Play app store policies that are at the heart of a high-stakes antitrust fight with Epic Games Inc.

Epic, which makes the popular Fortnite game, plans to call Pichai on Tuesday to testify in San Francisco federal court for the trial that began Nov. 6, an Epic spokeswoman told Bloomberg News. The fight kicked off after Epic sued Alphabet’s Google in 2020 claiming that its app store’s distribution, payment and fee policies hurt developers and raise prices for consumers.

Pichai’s testimony will be crucial as Alphabet faces claims by Epic that the company abuses its app market power and stands to lose billions in revenue if its app store policies are upended. He made a courtroom appearance less than two weeks ago on the witness stand in a landmark Washington trial over the US Justice Department’s claims that the company’s search business thwarts competition.

Epic lawyers will likely press Pichai on Google Play and Android operations, Google’s deals with developers and phone makers and the company’s agreements and relationship with Apple, among other topics, according to a court filing last month that said he could be questioned for up to an hour.

Google’s attorneys plan to question him for 30 minutes on how Google Play policies and business practices are justified as they promote competition, and on Google’s counterclaims that the game maker breached its contract and acted in bad faith when it tried to set up its own app store as an end-run around the Google Play billing system.

The trial is scheduled to run until early December and is also expected to feature testimony from Epic CEO Tim Sweeney.

Epic’s lawyers already have questioned other Google executives to try to show that the company has gone to great lengths to block rivals from competing with its marketplace and payment system, including by paying them off not to set up their own app stores to directly deal with users. Epic also claims Google has struck deals with phone makers like Samsung Electronics Co. to make sure Google Play is displayed prominently on mobile device home screens.

Google attorneys have defended the company’s actions as legitimate, arguing that offering developers certain incentives to launch their apps on Google Play is how the store competes with Apple’s App Store, in addition to the Samsung Galaxy Store and Amazon Appstore.

The case is In Re Google Play Store Antitrust Litigation, 21-md-02981, US District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).



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