Early Google exec says search engine did not do ‘evil things,’ owes success to ‘perfect execution’

Early Google executive Tim Armstrong told CNBC on Wednesday he believes the company did not do “evil things” to amass its dominance in online search. Rather, Armstrong said it was Google’s deftly executed strategy that has grown the business to a position where it faces antitrust scrutiny.

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice sued Google for what it claims are unlawful practices that helped the search engine obtain monopoly power. The lawsuit also alleges Google cut off competitors from key distribution channels to maintain its market dominance in search and search advertising.

“When I read that document, the first 10 years of it, I look at a company that basically had almost perfect execution on one side,” Armstrong said on “Squawk Alley.” “And, on the other side, was competing against some of the largest companies in the world and some of those companies probably didn’t make the right decisions in terms of the focus.”

“I was at Google when we were 13 out of 13 search engines,” added Armstrong, who joined Google in 2000 and was instrumental in growing its direct advertising business. He went onto become CEO of AOL and now leads a company focused on the direct-to-consumer space. He does not own shares of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

Tim Armstrong speaks onstage during the Building Brands People Love: A Fireside Chat with AOL’s Tim Armstrong on the Times Center Stage during 2016 Advertising Week New York on September 26, 2016 in New York City.

John Lamparski | Getty Images for Advertising Week | New York

Armstrong said he wasn’t going to weigh in specifically on what the outcome of the Justice Department’s lawsuit should be. But he repeatedly sought to portray Google’s growth as the result of building a quality product that users found helpful.

“I think Google is an incredible company … but it’s not because I don’t think they were doing evil things. I think they had incredible execution and they ended up in a position where they were able to do deals,” Armstrong said, referencing Google’s agreements with companies such as Apple and Samsung to become the default search engine on their mobile phones.

According to the DOJ lawsuit, Google’s “exclusionary agreements” with companies account for almost 60% of all search queries. Overall, the agency contends Google has had in recent years almost 90% of search engine queries in the U.S., including 95% on mobile.

Google has called the Justice Department’s suit “deeply flawed,” and argues people use its search engine because they want to, “not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”

“Everybody wants to win in business, and they’ve done a great job winning,” Armstrong said of Google. He added that the DOJ’s lawsuit is “void of the larger context” of the competition the Mountain View, California-based company faced as it grew from scrappy start-up to tech giant.

“Having been there really early and watched the competitive set, Google just did a really, really good job — which any business, by the way, that has done that good of a job of execution, to some degree, having the DOJ come after you means you’ve been successful,” Armstrong said.

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