Google’s reliance on commonly used messaging systems that automatically delete conversations after a day has landed the company in hot water with the Department of Justice.
In a filing Thursday evening, the DOJ accused Google of using so-called “history off” communications that they say “routinely destroyed” written communication after 24 hours. Some of those destroyed chats, the DOJ alleges, may have discussed “sensitive topics.” That’s a bad look as the tech giant faces not one, but two antitrust investigations by the nation’s leading law enforcement division.
“For nearly four years, Google systematically destroyed an entire category of written communications every 24 hours.” the DOJ alleges.
These “history off” chats—also referred to as off the record chats—allegedly occurred on Google Hangouts and instant messages. To Google’s credit, anyone who uses Google communications, even outside the company, has the ability to have their communications automatically deleted after 24 hours. Not everyone is under investigation from the feds though. In its filing,the DOJ claims Google use of history of chats, maliciously or not, may run afoul of laws requiring companies to preserve communications for litigation.
A Google spokesperson told Gizmodo it did not immediately respond to “strongly refute[s] the DOJ’s claims.”
“Our teams have conscientiously worked for years to respond to inquiries and litigation,” the spokesperson said “In fact, we have produced over 4 million documents in this case alone, and millions more to regulators around the world.”
“Our teams have conscientiously worked for years to respond to inquiries and litigation,” the spokesperson said. “In fact, we have produced over 4 million documents in this case alone, and millions more to regulators around the world.”
The DOJ maintains Google should have suspended its auto-delete practices by 2019, when it was clear litigation was coming. Amazingly though, the DOJ claims Google employees continued communicating using history off chats up until the week of the filling. Up until then, the DOJ says Google left it largely up to employees when chats could be relevant to preserve for future legal action. During all of that time, the agency claims Google falsely said it had “put a legal hold in place” suspending the auto deletion practice. Now, according to the filing, the DOJ says Google has finally committed to a “permanently set history on.”
The allegations make Google’s already rocky start to 2023 even worse. The tech giant, which was already busy fighting off a federal suit claiming it has built a monopoly in search and search advertising markets, got slapped with another major antitrust suit last month. That lawsuit, filed by the DOJ and eight state attorneys general, claims Google maintains an illegal monopoly in the digital ad markets. If the DOJ gets its way, Google will be forced to break up its ad business.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s reason to believe more legal action may be brewing. This week, reporting from Bloomberg and Politico claims the DOJ is investigating to determine if the company’s dominant Google Maps app violates antitrust practices. Bottom line, Google has a long legal year ahead of it.
Update: 2/24/23., 2:40 P.M. EST: Added statement from Google.