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Apple tried to hire away former Google search chief Ben Gomes

When Apple Inc was looking to hire new management for its Siri and artificial intelligence groups, it went after a pair of high-profile targets: Google’s top brass overseeing search.

By: Bloomberg |
Updated: August 20, 2021 11:11:30 am
Apple, Apple to hire Google Chief, Google, Google Chief Ben Gomes, John Giannandrea, Apple news, Google news,Apple at one point also attempted to hire Giannandrea’s top search deputy and eventual successor, Ben Gomes, according to documents filed by the Department of Justice (File photo)

When Apple Inc was looking to hire new management for its Siri and artificial intelligence groups, it went after a pair of high-profile targets: Google’s top brass overseeing search.

Apple succeeded in attracting one of those executives: John Giannandrea, who had served as Google’s search and AI chief, bringing him on as head of Siri and machine learning in 2018. That much is known. But Apple at one point also attempted to hire Giannandrea’s top search deputy and eventual successor, Ben Gomes, according to documents filed by the Department of Justice in its ongoing antitrust lawsuit against Google.

In a subpoena sent to Apple this week, the Justice Department asked the Cupertino, California-based technology giant to turn over documents related to efforts to hire Gomes and Giannandrea.

The subpoena demanded all documents starting in Jan. 1, 2010, about attempts to recruit employees from Google, Microsoft Corp.’s Bing, Yahoo Inc and DuckDuckGo “with expertise or experience in internet search services or search advertising, including: John Giannandrea and Ben Gomes.” Representatives for Apple and Google declined to comment.

The document doesn’t say when Apple attempted to hire Gomes, but any such effort wasn’t successful. Gomes remains at Google in a role running the Alphabet Inc-owned company’s education efforts. He was search chief until 2020 after taking over for Giannandrea when that executive left for Apple.

Gomes, who joined Google in 1999, is one of the company’s most veteran engineers and a central figure on the search team from the early days. Apple’s attempt to hire Gomes suggests that the company may have held ambitions to more broadly rival Google in search.

Though Apple doesn’t offer a Google-like search engine, it has gradually built up its search functionality via features embedded in its iPhone, iPad and Mac operating systems. Apple customers can use the Siri voice assistant or search panel to seek information, and Apple Music, the App Store and Maps have their own search engines.

That’s led to speculation that Apple plans to take on Google more directly in search. But such an effort would be a costly undertaking and threaten the billions of dollars that Apple gets in Google royalty payments. For the past 15 years, Google has served as the default search engine in Apple’s Safari web browser.

While the Justice Department’s suit is centered on Google, Apple has been linked to the case. The department accused the rivals as working as “one company” in their search partnership.

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