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DOJ accuses Google of deleting chat evidence for its antitrust lawsuit

Google was apparently required under federal law to preserve records of written text.

Alena Kravchenko via Getty Images

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is accusing Google of routinely destroying internal messaging chat histories, which the company is required to preserve under federal rules for an antitrust lawsuit. Google is grappling with not just one, but a couple of antitrust lawsuits filed by the DOJ and groups of states. This particular case pertains to the lawsuit the department filed back in 2020 for "unlawfully maintaining monopolies" around search and search-related advertising.

In the DOJ's filing, it said company employees typically used their internal chatroom, which was set to delete history every 24 hours, to discuss "substantive and sensitive business." Apparently, the agency expected Google to change its chat history setting in 2019 when the company "reasonably anticipated [the] litigation," but it left the decision to individual employees. Only a few people deemed their chat histories relevant to the case and preserved theirs for the court, and Google continued deleting most people's chats even after the lawsuit was filed.

Despite that, Google reportedly told the government that it had already "put a legal hold in place" to suspend auto-deletion on its chat tool. The DOJ alleges that the company's claim was a lie and that it only truly stopped deleting chat histories this week after it was warned that the agency would file a motion for sanctions. It's now asking the court to rule that Google had violated a federal rule and to order a hearing that would determine how the company would be sanctioned. The DOJ also wants the court to order Google to provide more information about its chat practices.

Google, however, denies the DOJ's allegations. A spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal: "Our teams have conscientiously worked for years to respond to inquiries and litigation. In fact, we have produced over 4 million documents in this case alone, and millions more to regulators around the world."