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Top Apple exec Eddy Cue defends Google default search deal: No ‘valid alternative’

Longtime Apple executive Eddy Cue defended the company’s deal to keep Google as the default search engine on its smartphones and browsers during his closely watched testimony at the Big Tech firm’s antitrust trial on Tuesday.

Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services and a close confidant of CEO Tim Cook, was arguably the most high-profile witness to date at the trial, where Google has faced intense scrutiny over its top-dollar payments to secure default status.

Google could be paying as much as $19 billion per year to secure default status on Apple devices, according to estimates by wealth management firm Bernstein cited by CNBC.

Cue told the court that Apple had selected Google as its default search engine because it was far and away the best available option for its devices.

“There certainly wasn’t a valid alternative we would have gone to at the time,” Cue testified in Washington, D.C., according to Bloomberg.

He added that Apple has had no need to develop its own in-house search engine due to the quality of Google’s product.

Cue’s testimony backed a key defense by Google’s lawyers, who say consumers opt for the company’s search engine because it is a high-quality service.

Justice Department attorneys have said Google spends more than $10 billion on annual payments to various partners, including Apple and mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon, to gain dominance over online search.

The Apple bigwig also testified that a clause in its deal with Google states that Big Tech firms will “support and defend” the pact against legal threats.

Cue admitted that Google’s legal team pushed for the clause’s inclusion during contract renegotiations in 2016.

Google became the default search engine on Apple’s Safari browser in 2002 and has kept that status ever since.

Cue said the deal was most recently renewed in 2021, according to Bloomberg.

Much of Cue’s testimony was conducted in a closed-court session because it pertained to sensitive information related to the companies’ operations.  

Google retains a roughly 90% market share, dwarfing all other rivals. Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo, previously testified that Google’s default deals with leading smartphone makers and mobile carriers had

He is the second Apple executive to testify at the trial, following last week’s appearance by Apple’s artificial intelligence boss John Giannandrea.

The antitrust trial, which kicked off its third week, has faced criticism over a lack of public transparency.

Last week, the DOJ yanked trial exhibits it had published to a public website after Google complained to the trial’s presiding Judge Amit Mehta.