Then there’s the fact that “one click away” is still quite a distance. The US government’s case revolves around Google paying companies like Apple to be the default search engine in browsers and on smartphones, which raises the question of how much defaults matter. Standard economic models assume that a user switches when it’s in their interest to do so, which simply isn’t the case. In their book Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein call this the “yeah, whatever” heuristic: We mostly just go with the default option. “If, for a given choice, there is a default option…then we can expect a large number of people to end up with that option, whether or not it is good for them,” they write.

The “yeah, whatever” heuristic and other findings from behavioral economics have made waves in social science, but unfortunately they haven’t had as much impact on antitrust. US courts are unlikely to recognize the barrier that “a click away” truly represents.

Google gets it, though, which is why it pays billions to be the default. If just being better was enough, why not let Apple strike a deal with Bing or DuckDuckGo, and trust that users would click their way to the better product?

“There will always be some degree of pure consumer inertia and loyalty… due in part to our human limitations,” economists Hal Varian and Carl Shapiro wrote in their 1999 book Information Rules. “These costs may seem small,” they note in the same chapter, “but ask yourself how often you shop around for a new travel agent, insurance agent, or bank. Do you really know you are getting the best deal possible?” Three years after the book was published, Varian took a job at a then-tiny startup called Google.

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