Google’s own “Bard” AI chatbot says the US Justice Department has a winning case in the landmark antitrust trial against the search giant – and blasted the company for wielding illegal “monopoly power” that has “harmed consumers,” according to a Post analysis.
The Post quizzed Bard – a so-called “large language model” trained on endless reams of internet data – on more than 700 words taken directly from the Sept. 12 opening statement in which DOJ attorney Kenneth Dintzer detailed the government’s case for why Google’s search juggernaut should be broken up.
When asked if it agreed or disagreed with the DOJ’s arguments, Bard sided with the feds – declaring that US prosecutors’ evidence made it clear Google has “illegally used its monopoly power to maintain its dominance in the online search market.”
Bard – which lately has raised eyebrows by falsely claiming that Israel and Hamas had agreed to a ceasefire and botching a description of the James Webb Space Telescope in a company ad – responded to a query last week saying Google’s “lack of innovation has led to lower quality search results for users.”
“I believe that the Justice Department should prevail in this case,” Bard said. “If Google is found to have violated antitrust laws, the court should order Google to change its business practices and make it easier for other search engines to compete. This would lead to more competition in the online search market and lower prices for consumers.”
Bard’s surprise response comes as Google scrambles to stave off a court ruling that could upend its business model. The DOJ alleges Google each year pays billions of dollars – including a whopping $26.3 billion in 2021 alone – to partners like Apple and AT&T to ensure its search engine is the default for most devices and maintain a 90% market share.
In his opening argument, the DOJ’s Dintzer claimed that Google has “abused a monopoly in general search” for the last 12 years, warned that the “harm from Google’s exclusive contracts affects every phone and computer in the country.” The feds also claim that Google abused its dominance to jack up prices for advertisers.
Bard concurred, asserting that the default deals have “made it difficult for new search engines to enter the market and has stifled innovation.”
“I also agree with the Justice Department’s arguments that Google’s dominance in the online search market has harmed consumers,” Bard said. “Google’s high prices for search advertising have made it more expensive for businesses to reach their customers. Google’s lack of innovation has led to lower quality search results for users.”
The chatbot cited several specific examples of what it described as “Google’s anti-competitive behavior” referenced in the case, including its default search deals with Apple and Mozilla.
During the trial, search rivals like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg testified that such payments have made it all but impossible to chip away at Google’s dominance.
When asked what actions the judge should take to rein in Google’s search business, Bard floated several possibilities – including ordering an end to its default search engine deals, requiring Google to share search data with rivals and even “breaking up Google’s search advertising business.”
“The specific actions that Judge Mehta takes will depend on the specific findings of the court,” Bard said. “However, the goal of any remedy should be to restore competition to the online search market and protect consumers from further harm.”
When reached for comment, a Google spokesperson said “all LLMs hallucinate, including Bard.”
“As we’ve always said, Bard is an experiment that seems better at recommending must-see sights in NYC or suggesting Thanksgiving decorations than opining on complex antitrust lawsuits,” the spokesperson said.
Oddly, when Bard is prompted with the text of Google’s opening statement from the trial and asked the same question about whether it agrees or disagrees with the core arguments, the chatbot sides with Google.
The contradictory responses bolster the case made by critics of leading AI chatbots, including Robert Thomson, the CEO of The Post’s parent company News Corp – who recently described their propensity to regurgitate nonsense as “rubbish in, rubbish out, rubbish all about.”
“It’s comically embarrassing that Google’s legal arguments are so easily undermined by its very own AI chatbot,” said Kyle Morse, deputy executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, an antitrust watchdog.
“As more and more details from the trial have been made available, the public has come to see Google for what it really is: a bloated tech giant that would rather buy up the search market than innovate,” Morse added.
Many observers, and even Google itself, have noted Bard is prone to erratic behavior in response to seemingly basic user prompts.
The chatbot is labeled as an “experiment” and is kept separate from Google’s main search engine. When accessing the service, users are greeted with a disclaimer noting Bard “may display inaccurate info” or even totally false responses – known to AI researchers as “hallucinations.”
In April, Google CEO Sundar Pichai admitted some of the company’s AI programs had developed so-called “emergent properties” – such as one strange instance in which a tool gained the ability to translate the Bengali language despite never being “taught” the dialect.
It isn’t the first time that Bard has taken the opposing side in a Google antitrust battle. In March, tech blogger Jane Manchun Wong posted an exchange in which the chatbot declared Google had a “monopoly on the digital advertising market” – after it was asked to weigh in on a separate federal lawsuit filed by the DOJ and eight US states.
Nevertheless, Google’s critics, including the noted Big Tech opponent Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) recently warned that increasingly advanced versions of the AI technology could help it maintain a stranglehold on the online search market for years to come.
In April, Pichai signaled AI would eventually be integrated into Google search, telling the Wall Street Journal that the “opportunity space, if anything, is bigger than before.”
Google’s lawyers kicked off their defense late last month, with Pichai among those called to take the stand. The trial is expected to conclude in late November, though Judge Amit Mehta is not expected to issue a ruling on whether Google broke antitrust law until early next year.
If Google is found to have broken the law, the second trial will be held to determine a proper remedy. Potential outcomes, according to experts, include the implementation of so-called a “choice screen” for users, a forced discontinuation of business practices or even a breakup of the company.
While the final outcome is likely years away, investment bank Barclays said in a client note last week that they are “increasingly concerned about the strength of the case against Google.”
“What is still far from clear is if there is an adverse ruling, what kind of changes to the search market structure the judge thinks might solve the monopoly issue,” the analysts said.