Washington (CNN) Google deliberately tried to “hide the ball” in a high-profile antitrust case by automatically deleting employee chat messages that could have been used as evidence in the lawsuit, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, slapping the tech giant.
The ruling condemns Google’s record retention practices and their impact on litigation, which could have a broader impact as the company defends a series of lawsuits on multiple fronts.
Google will not be immediately penalized for its missteps, beyond covering the legal costs plaintiffs incurred in filing the sanctions motion, Judge James Donato wrote in his order. A non-monetary fine may still be imposed after further legal proceedings. But Donato this week repeatedly criticized Google for trying to keep sensitive chat logs out of the record.
“The court concludes that Google intended to undermine the discovery process, and that Chat evidence was lost with the intent to prevent its use in litigation” and “with the intent to prevent another party from using the information in the lawsuits,” said Donato. wrote.
In what Donato described as a “fundamental issue,” Google appeared to turn a blind eye to employees’ liberal use of a chat feature that deletes the logs after 24 hours, the ruling said. The feature allowed Google employees to have conversations about topics relevant to app store practices — and the subject of the lawsuit — with greater confidence that the posts wouldn’t be used in court. Employees were also given the freedom to decide for themselves which conversations should be kept, Donato wrote.
That was “in stark contrast” to how Google automatically keeps company emails subject to litigation, he added. movement.
The Justice Department has filed a similar motion against Google in an ongoing antitrust lawsuit over Google’s search activities. While that case is unfolding in another federal court, Donato’s ruling on Tuesday could give other courts more ammunition to reach the same conclusion.
In a statement, Google said it has been trying to meet its discovery commitments.
“Our teams have worked conscientiously for years to respond to discovery requests from Epic and state AGs, and we have produced more than three million documents, including thousands of chats,” said a Google spokesperson. “We will continue to show the court how choice, security and openness are built into Android and Google Play.”
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