The FairSearch Guide to the Senate Hearing on “The Power of Google” (UPDATED)

September 2nd, 2011 | Bookmark and Share | SUBSCRIBE

THE AFTERMATH

Today’s Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing confirms that concerns about Google’s business practices are real and there is strong support for a rigorous investigation. A bipartisan chorus made clear: Just because Eric Schmidt says “he gets it,” doesn’t mean he gets away with it. Despite acknowledging Google’s monopoly power, Schmidt evaded questions about Google’s abuse of its dominance in search and search advertising and claimed he lacked certainty about Google’s practices that are under review. FairSearch.org applauds the subcommittee’s members for their attention to these important issues and encourages the FTC, state AGs and others to continue their scrutiny of Google’s business practices.

Watch video of FairSearch spokesman Mark Corallo’s reaction to the hearing.

Read what Members of Congress and experts and reporters have to say about the hearing.

Read the full rough transcript of the hearing.

THE DETAILS

The Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights is holding a hearing on Wednesday, September 21st on “The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?”

Watch the webcast here.

WHO IS TESTIFYING?

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt will take the witness stand though  his presence comes begrudgingly, after Google initially refused requests from the Senate for Schmidt and founder and CEO Larry Page to testify. It is worth noting that the hearing’s been divided into two panels; Schmidt gets his own. Schmidt is sure to be echoed by Google counsel Susan Creighton on the panel that follows.

However, their arguments will be countered with real-life examples from businesses who’ve experienced Google’s anticompetitive conduct first-hand.

In addition to Google’s Creighton, the second panel includes:

  • Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, who commenting in The Wall Street Journal about Google’s content scraping last year, said: “[Google] is trying to leverage its distribution power”—the search engine—”to take an inferior product and put it in front of the user.”
  • Jeff Katz, CEO of Nextag, a popular price comparison tool for small businesses.
  • Tom Barnett, counsel to Expedia (a FairSearch member), and former Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division of the US Justice Department will testify on the threat of Google’s search dominance to competition and consumers and the importance of enforcing existing antitrust laws.

THE ISSUES

When the Senate Judiciary Committee outlined its agenda for the year, it highlighted that it would “closely examine allegations raised by e-commerce websites that compete with Google that they are being treated unfairly in search ranking, and in their ability to purchase search advertising.”

Of course, there’s no shortage of anticompetitive behavior for the Committee to examine:

  • Deceptive display: Google’s practice of steering users toward its own products by displaying them at the top or in the middle of the results page in ways that are not clear to consumers that they are not natural search results;
  • Search manipulation: Manipulating its search algorithm to exclude, penalize or promote specific sites or whole categories of sites;
  • Content scraping: Stealing content developed by other websites, such as user reviews, without permission and displaying that content on its own pages, sometimes even without attribution;
  • Acquisitions: Buying up companies that present a nascent competitive threat or the critical technologies they depend upon (see ITA);
  • Unfair treatment of advertisers: Manipulating advertisers quality scores to inflate ad prices and lower their natural search results position and placing restrictions on its “must buy” ad platform that inhibit customers from using competing platforms.
  • Unfair treatment of partners: imposing exclusivity restrictions in its licensing agreements to maintain and expand its dominance.

Want another perspective? Read what Wharton Professor, Eric Clemons’ guide to the action.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM GOOGLE

Expect to hear a lot about the “the five principles” that have guided Google from the beginning.

But to make sure you can tell what’s true and what’s spin – take a look at what Google executives have said about some of these principles in the past.

Want a teaser? While Google PR has said above all else, “do what’s best for the user,” Google founders feel that “advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of consumers.”

Can we take Google at its word? And if so, which one?

A GUIDE TO THE GOOGLE SPEAK

“Google is free.” “Competition is a click away.” Google uses one-liners like these to distract from the facts.

But the truth behind these Google catch phrases? See the FairSearch guide to the Google speak

READY TO TAKE ACTION?

Here are three ways you can stand up for fair search:

  1. Visit the FairSearch advocacy center and tell your member of Congress to protect consumers, innovation and fair search.
  2. Have you witnessed Google’s anticompetitive behavior first-hand? Share your story of Google abuse. No information will be published or shared without the author’s explicit consent.
  3. Stay up to date with the latest FairSearch news on Twitter and Facebook. (We’ll be tweeting about the hearing using the hashtag #googlehearing.)