Googlers told to avoid words like ‘Share’ and ‘Bundle". (AP)News 

US Warns Google Employees to Refrain from Using Terms Such as ‘Share’ and ‘Bundle’

An old memo discovered by the US government for its monopoly case reveals that there are certain statements about Google that Googlers are prohibited from expressing in writing.

Alphabet Inc’s Google is on trial in Washington DC over US allegations that it illegally maintains a monopoly in the online search business. Executives at the Mountain View, Calif.-based behemoth have known for years that the company’s practices were under the microscope and encouraged their employees to avoid creating permanent records of potentially problematic behavior, government lawyers allege.

Google employees often communicate with each other using the company’s Google Chat product. According to the Department of Justice, in accordance with the “communicate with care” policy, Google employees receive training instructing them to have sensitive conversations during chat without history. This means that the conversation will be automatically deleted after 24 hours.

To make the point, Justice Department attorney Kenneth Dintzer on Monday presented a test exhibit of an October 2021 chat from Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai. “I need a link to my leader circle tomorrow,” the leader said.

And on the next line: “Can we also turn this group’s history setting off… please.”

This and other evidence in the trial show that Google “hid and destroyed documents because they knew they were violating antitrust laws,” Dintzer said in his opening statement.

Google declined to comment.

Back in 2003, Google executives shared clear guidelines on phrases to avoid in order not to end up like monopolies.

“We ‘must be sensitive to antitrust considerations,'” Google chief economist Hal Varian wrote in a July 2003 memo discovered by government lawyers suing Alphabet. “We must be careful about what we say both publicly and privately.”

Of one phrase to avoid, Varian said, “Cutting off their air supply.” He was referring to a quip used by then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer years earlier when his company was under federal antitrust scrutiny.

Another no-no, according to a 2009 Varian broadcast: “Market share.” When referring to Google’s share of the search market, use the term “query share” instead. Penny Chu, the recipient of Varian’s email, replied in the affirmative. “Yes absolutely.” Such instructions constitute “the one big thing I remember from all that law school,” Chu wrote, ending the sentence with a sideways smiley.

The term “stock” is a touchy subject within Plex. Google controls nearly 90 percent of the market for search queries, and as a result collects most of the revenue from ads placed alongside those results, the data show. The Justice Department and some state prosecutors allege that Google made illegal deals with other big tech companies, including Apple Inc., to give Google’s search tools prime real estate in electronics like smartphones that people use every day.

Those agreements prevented competitors, including Microsoft and DuckDuckGo, from gaining traction in searches, government lawyers argue. Google’s lawyers deny it harmed competition and say consumers choose its search engine because its technology is superior.

While growing a search empire is perfectly legal, Google employees are advised to avoid taking risks on any salvageable communications, government lawyers say. Another internal presentation from March 2011, titled “Antitrust Basics for Search Team,” tells employees:

  • Avoid discussions of “scale” and “network effects”
  • We do not “leverage” anything
  • We do not “lock” or “lock out” our users/partners
  • We do not “bundle” or “bundle” products together
  • Avoid metaphors related to wars or sports, winning or losing

During the trial, Dintzer pressed Varian’s question about “antitrust training” at Google. When Varian said he couldn’t remember if he had taken it, Dintzer tried to jog his memory. “Avoid any reference to market or market share or dominance,” Dintzer said, citing an internal document.

Varian was shocked. “I may have communicated informally with attorneys about this type of legal matter,” Varian said. “But I don’t specifically remember having a class on this subject.”

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