Google Denies DOJ Allegations It Destroyed Evidence in Antitrust Investigation

Sundar Pichai CEO of Google ( Carsten Koall /Getty)
Carsten Koall /Getty

Google has denied U.S. government allegations that it destroyed evidence necessary for an antitrust investigation by turning off its internal chat system’s “history” feature. According to the DOJ, Google executives use the chat feature so that their conversations would not be handed over to any investigation.

Breitbart News previously reported that Google has been accused by the Department of Justice of destroying chat messages it was required to keep as part of an antitrust investigation.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai looking down

Google CEO Sundar Pichai looking down (NurPhoto / Contributor/Getty)

Breitbart News reporter Alana Mastrangelo wrote:

The DOJ says Google destroyed chat messages it was required to save during an antitrust investigation. According to a filing, “Amazingly, Google’s daily spoliation continued until this week. When the United States indicated that it would file this motion — following months of conferral — Google finally committed to ‘permanently set to history on’ and thus preserve its employees’ chat messages.”

Google “systematically destroyed an entire category of written communications every 24 hours,” in violation of federal rules seeking to keep chats potentially relevant to litigation, the DOJ said in a filing.

“The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure required Google to suspend its auto-delete practices in mid-2019, when the company reasonably anticipated this litigation. Google did not,” the DOJ said.

“Instead, as described above, Google abdicated its burden to individual custodians to preserve potentially relevant chats,” the DOJ added. “Few, if any, document custodians did so. That is, few custodians, if any, manually changed, on a chat-by-chat basis, the history default from off to on.”

As a result, the tech giant “systematically destroyed” potentially relevant written communication “every 24 hours,” the DOJ affirmed in its filing.

Now, Ars Technica reports that the internet giant is defending its decision. In a document submitted to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the company claimed that using the function was a reasonable precaution for protecting chats, refuting claims that it had intentionally destroyed evidence.

The U.S. Justice Department, along with 21 other states, had asked the court to punish Google for allegedly using the auto-delete feature to delete evidence and deceive the government by claiming that it had suspended its auto-deletion practices on chats that were the subject of a legal hold.

The company’s response was that it uses a “tiered approach” to preserve chats and advises staff members under legal hold not to use messaging services like Google Chat to discuss the lawsuit. If necessary, they are instructed to set their chat settings to “history on” to preserve any messages relating to legal matters.

The lawsuit against Google was filed in October 2020 and claimed that through anti-competitive and exclusionary practices, Google illegally maintains monopolies in search and search advertising markets. When it became apparent that legal action was about to be taken, the U.S. declared that Google “had a duty to preserve employee chat messages” beginning in 2019.

According to Google, the plaintiffs on behalf of the government “contend that the Federal Rules specifically mandate that Google should have applied a forced history on setting for all custodians for all chats created while the custodian was on legal hold, regardless of the possible relevance of the message to the litigation.”

However, Google noted that federal regulations only call for “reasonable steps to preserve” information. Google claimed that its extensive preservation efforts in this case — particularly its methodology regarding history-off chats — were “reasonable steps” as defined by the Rule.

Google stated that the U.S. and state attorneys general “have not been denied access to material information needed to prosecute these cases and they have offered no evidence that Google intentionally destroyed such evidence.” The company further argued that the objections were submitted too late and that the government knew before the lawsuit began “that there was a subset of chats not automatically retained.”

According to the Justice Department’s motion from last month, events took place very differently. “Google systematically destroyed an entire category of written communications every 24 hours” for nearly four years, the government motion said.

The motion added:

All this time, Google falsely told the United States that Google had “put a legal hold in place” that “suspends auto-deletion.” Indeed, during the United States’ investigation and the discovery phase of this litigation, Google repeatedly misrepresented its document preservation policies, which conveyed the false impression that the company was preserving all custodial chats. Not only did Google unequivocally assert during the investigation that its legal hold suspended auto-deletion, but Google continually failed to disclose—both to the United States and to the Court—its 24-hour auto-deletion policy. Instead, at every turn, Google reaffirmed that it was preserving and searching all potentially relevant written communications.

Antitrust activists have harshly criticized Google’s use of the history-off feature, claiming that the company’s methods are anti-competitive and that it should be held responsible for its actions. The accusations against Google are a part of a larger global campaign against Big Tech by regulators looking to limit the influence of hegemonic tech firms like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

Read more at Ars Technica here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan


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