Google Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt confidently debated with U.S. senators yesterday over the claim that his company is unfairly dominating web search engines by suppressing information from competing companies in favor of its own.
The Senate antitrust subcommittee is investigating whether Google’s aggressive entry into numerous Internet businesses is harmful to consumers or competitors.
Schmidt openly welcomed questions from the Federal Trade Commission and the Senate, and defended his company by contrasting it with Microsoft Corp. and the legal debacle it endured from antitrust investigators in the 1990s.
At the heart of the dispute is Google’s meteoric rise to Internet dominance during its relatively short 13-year existence. Google began as a simple search engine that directed consumers to other sites for the most relevant content, but quickly evolved to provide more functionality and services to its users. In order to do so, the company acquired many businesses and applications that it now offers as its own.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D. -Wis.), chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, questioned whether the company’s Internet dominance allows for impartiality, or whether it “creates an inherent conflict of interest which threatens to stifle competition.”
Yelp Chief Executive Jeremy Stoppelman furthered the validity of Sen. Kohl’s question by testifying that “Google is no longer in the business of sending people to the best sources of information on the web,” he told the panel. It now hopes to be a destination market itself.”
In response, Schmidt affirmed Google’s mission to provide the most relevant information to consumers, and categorized his competitors’ allegations as simply resulting from discontent over their sites’ declining rankings.