DOJ Accuses Google of Deleting Off-the-Record Chats

  • Google is facing sanctions for deleting evidence in an antitrust lawsuit.
  • Google was asked in 2019 to suspend its policy of auto-deleting company chats.
  • Google continued to delete “off the record” chats every 24 hours until this February, the Justice Department said.

The US Department of Justice accused Google on Thursday of deleting evidence that would be used in the government’s antitrust lawsuit against the company’s search business

The Justice Department requested a federal judge to sanction the company over its “intentional and repeated destruction of written communications,” in a court filing on Thursday. Sanctions are punishments imposed upon those who disobey court orders.  

According to the Justice Department’s filing, Google has long had a practice of encouraging its employees to communicate via “off the record” chats which are automatically destroyed after 24 hours.

The Justice Department said in the filing that Google “trained” employees to consider these messages — also known as Google Hangouts or instant messages — as better than emails because they would not be retained by the company in the same way emails were. 

“Unsurprisingly then, Google was aware users often had “off the record” chats “to discuss sensitive topics,” the Justice Department said in the filing. 

The Justice Department filed its antitrust lawsuit against Google in 2020 for using unlawful tactics to preserve its dominance over internet search.

In the filing, the Justice Department said that Google was asked as early as mid-2019 to suspend its auto-delete practices in anticipation of the lawsuit. 

According to the Justice Department’s filing, Google not only failed to suspend its auto-delete practices at the time, but continued to delete chats every 24 hours up until February 8 of this year. 

“Google’s daily destruction of written records prejudiced the United States by depriving it of a rich source of candid discussions between Google’s executives, including likely trial witnesses,” the Justice Department said in the filing. 

Neither Google nor the Justice Department immediately responded to Insider’s request for a comment. 

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