Home Mr. Schmidt Goes To Washington: What’s At Stake for Google?

Mr. Schmidt Goes To Washington: What’s At Stake for Google?

This week, Google chairman Eric Schmidt will testify before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. The hearing is called “The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?” Schmidt will be followed by testimony from Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder and CEO of Yelp, whose company’s treatment by Google exemplifies the ethically touchy parts of Google’s search business practices.

In July, Google made its move in local business reviews, pushing results from sites like Yelp down the page below reviews from Google’s own Places service. The accusation is that Google’s search privileges its own content (and ad businesses) ahead of competitors. These allegations have arisen before in both the U.S. and Europe. But are these practices really anti-competitive under the law?

Schmidt talks to ABC News about the upcoming hearing:

Independent analysis has shown that Google’s efforts to integrate all kinds of content searches has benefitted its Web properties, especially when it comes to images and videos. But Google insists that these are natural results based only on user preferences. It’s not surprising, after all, that YouTube is the top website for video search results, regardless of whether Google owns it.

But practices like pushing other business review sites off of its Places pages are more deliberate. Google would be hard-pressed to construe that as an effort to serve user preferences. Places pages used to scrape content from those sites and display it on a Google page, but Google discontinued that practice. But recently, Google addressed the need to scrape content by acquiring restaurant review publisher Zagat. Moving into this content space will further bolster Google’s efforts to crush Yelp.

Google faces plenty of competition in other aspects of its business related to local business, such as deals and payments. But Places pages are no longer neutral ground, and if the launch of Google Flight Search is any indication, the travel industry could be next.

Our own Scott M. Fulton, III will be covering Wednesday’s Senate hearing in detail, so stay tuned.

Do you think Google’s search business is anti-competitive? Speak your mind in the comments.

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