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DOJ: Google Destroyed Chats It Was Required to Save During Antitrust Investigation

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.

Moreover, investigators also claim that Google “falsely” told the U.S. government it had “put a legal hold in place” that “suspends auto-deletion.”

The DOJ said that “at every turn, Google reaffirmed that it was preserving and searching all potentially relevant written communications.”

“Amazingly, Google’s daily spoliation continued until this week,” the DOJ added. “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.”

A Google spokesperson told CNBC company officials “strongly refute the DOJ’s claims.”

“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,” the spokesperson said.

This is not the first time the issue of Google chats has come up in antitrust litigation.

In Epic Games’ antitrust litigation against Google, the video game company submitted exhibits that appeared to show Google employees suggesting chats were a safer place to have sensitive conversations, CNBC noted.

For example, one exhibit in that case showed an employee saying, “Since it’s a sensitive topic, I prefer to discuss offline or over hangout” — in reference to Google’s chat product in question.

 

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