In a new filing late last week, the US Department of Justice alleged that Google was “systematically destroying” an entire category of written communications in its antitrust investigation against the company. The communications — chat messages between Google employees — were suppressed over several years, the DoJ said. A similar issue had been raised by Epic Games in its ongoing lawsuit which involves the maker of Fortnite accusing Google of anti-competitive behavior regarding its Play Store and in-app purchase rules.
This latest claim, however, relates to the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit filed in 2020 against Google for monopolizing the search and advertising market.
In it, the DoJ says federal rules of civil procedure should have required Google to stop its practice of automatically deleting chat histories as soon as it anticipated the upcoming litigation in mid-2019. But Google didn’t, the government says. Instead, Google employees continued to be able to turn their messaging app’s chat history on or off at any time.
He explains that the program used by Google, Google Hangouts, an instant messaging product, offers a feature for “off the record” chats which are automatically deleted by the system after 24 hours. Google even trained its employees to use the feature to discuss sensitive topics instead of using email, the filing says.
It also points to a policy written weeks after the lawsuit was filed that allowed Google employees to control the retention of their chat history by selecting “history on” chats that retained messages for 30 days to 18 months, depending on the selection. of the user, or the “history off” texts that disappear 24 hours later. For one-to-one chats, the default setting is “history off”.
Additionally, the US government alleges that Google lied about its chat preservation policies, falsely claiming that it had “implemented a legal hold” to suspend automatic deletion. The company claimed it was preserving all of its custody conversations, the case continues, but in reality it has disclosed nothing to the US government and the court regarding its 24-hour deletion policy, which continued until to this month – years after the case. has been dropped.
“As we now know, over the past four years, Google has routinely destroyed these written communications,” the filing said. “In fact, Google continued to automatically delete these ‘off the record’ threads after reasonably anticipating litigation, throughout the US investigation, and even when the company became a defendant in that litigation – all 24 hours until February 8, 2023.”
Of particular interest to Epic Games, the filing also references the Fortnite lawsuit as another example of this problem, noting that even after Epic confronted Google with its concerns, it still refused its 24-hour removal policy. hours in the US government.
The messages could have provided the Justice Department with key communications to back up its case or names of witnesses to call. He asks the court to remedy the situation with sanctions and wants the court to order Google to provide further information about the suppressed chat practices, including written statements and oral testimony, before the requested hearing.
The allegations here are notable not only because of the weight they have in the current antitrust litigation between Google and the government, but because similar concerns play out in the Epic Games lawsuit as well. In the latter case, the judge has already said he won’t let Google “get away with it” by removing the cats. At this time, the court in the Epic case is still collecting additional chats from Google, including those related to the litigation as well as any others that mention terms such as “sensitive”, “history disabled” , “history not disabled”, » “history enabled”, “history enabled”, “off the record” or “on the record”.
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