DOJ seeks legal sanctions against Google for ‘intentional destruction’ of chat logs | CNN Business
Google should face legal sanctions over the “intentional and repeated destruction” of the company’s chat logs that the US government hoped to use in its antitrust case targeting Google’s search business, the Department of Justice.
Despite Google’s promises to preserve internal communications relevant to the lawsuit, for years the company maintained a policy of automatically deleting certain employee chats after 24 hours, the DOJ said in a filing in federal court on District of Columbia.
The practice has hurt the US government’s case against the tech giant, the DOJ alleged.
“Google’s daily destruction of written documents harmed the United States by depriving the United States of a rich source of candid discussions among Google executives, including likely trial witnesses,” the filing said.
“We strongly refute the DOJ’s claims,” Google ( GOOGL ) said in a statement. “Our teams have worked diligently for years to respond to inquiries and litigation. In fact, we have produced more than 4 million documents in this case alone, and millions more to regulators around the world.”
The federal government’s call for sanctions adds to the pressure Google faces as it battles antitrust lawsuits on multiple fronts and marks a rare move by prosecutors.
Through a setting in its chat software, Google employees can save chat history for up to 18 months, but only if the setting is manually turned on, the US government said in its filing, and adding that Google trained and encouraged employees to discuss sensitive topics on a regular basis. chat messages that they knew would be automatically deleted the next day.
The filing cites several attached exhibits in which Google employees, sensing that a conversation was about to veer into sensitive territory, suggested that the discussion continue on the chat platform, with history turned off.
The government’s filing follows a similar sanctions motion against Google by Epic Games, maker of the hit video game “Fortnite,” in a separate antitrust case related to Google’s app store. The two sides faced off in an evidentiary hearing last month; on February 15, the judge in the case ordered Google to produce more chat messages.
Thursday’s DOJ filing also cites Epic’s evidentiary hearing, saying it showed that Google destroyed the records of at least nine individuals who were considered potential trial witnesses, and that the federal judge overseeing that case agreed that the chats might have contained relevant evidence but that Google “did not systematically preserve these chats”.
“Google admitted that, for litigation over the past five years, it has never retained all chats for relevant individuals by turning on chat history,” the DOJ said.
It wasn’t until earlier this month that Google agreed to preserve the chats, according to the filing, after failing to disclose to prosecutors its practice of deleting deactivated chats from history after 24 hours.
This isn’t the first time the DOJ has clashed with Google over evidence. Last year, in the same case, the agency asked the court to sanction Google for a program known as “Communicate with Care,” in which the company allegedly trained employees to copy lawyers in emails as a way to claim attorney-client privilege in communications. that they were business sensitive, but did not seek legal advice and did not deserve confidentiality.
While Judge Amit Mehta declined to issue sanctions at the time, he did order all the emails in question to be reviewed again.