A federal judge has ruled that Google violated a court order requiring it to retain employee chat messages relevant to Epic’s antitrust case, according to Bloomberg And CNBC. U.S. District of San Francisco Judge James Donato said the tech giant “has adopted a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy to preserve messages, to the detriment of its retention obligations,” and must be punished for their actions. Donato has yet to decide what penalties and penalties Google should face, but he has ordered the company to cover Epic’s attorney fees related to this particular issue.
Donato said in his decision that Google gave nearly 360 employees complete freedom to decide whether or not to keep chat histories. In a separate filing by Department of Justice About the same complaint, the agency explained that the tech giant’s internal chat room, which is used to discuss “substantial and sensitive matters,” is set to delete chat messages within 24 hours by default. The agency expected Google to change its chat history setting in 2019 when it “reasonably anticipated [the] litigation”, but he would still have left the decision to the individual employees.
Epic Games, to back up its case, recently exhibits submitted to show how Google employees tend to disable chat history. In an example from 2021, Google CEO Sundar Pichai reportedly wrote, “…can we also change the setting for this group to disable history.” He attempted to delete that message a few seconds later, according to the record. Google employees also reportedly disabled chat histories when discussing topics such as revenue sharing and mobile app distribution agreements, as well as a project involving changing commission rates for Google Play.
In a statement, a Google spokesperson said the company has worked with Epic and investigators over the years and turned over millions of documents: “Our teams have worked diligently, for years, to respond to requests for discovery of Epic and state AGs and produced us more than three million documents, including thousands of cats We will continue to show the court how choice, security and openness are built into Android and Google Play,” they said.
The judge will hold further proceedings to finalize the penalties Google will face. Donato said he’d like to see the evidence available “at the end of fact-finding,” so Epic would be in a better position to “tell the court what might have been lost in the chat communications.”