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The Power of Google: What Experts and Reporters Are Saying About the Hearing

At Wednesday’s Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing, Google’s Chairman Eric Schmidt, faced tough questions from lawmakers about whether his company is abusing its dominance in the online search market to harm competition. Here is a round-up of some of the coverage of the hearing:

  • “Senators grill Google over competition issues” –Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/21/11
  • “Is Google A Monopoly? ‘We’re In That Area,’ Admits Schmidt” –Business Insider, 9/21/11
  • “Google’s Eric Schmidt Grilled by Senators in Three-Hour Hearing Over Monopoly Issues” –Softpedia, 9/22/11
  • “Eric Schmidt concedes Google is near-monopoly” –TechWatch, 9/22/11
  • “Ranking Members Believe Google Is a Monopolist” –SearchEngineLand, 9/21/11

And a roundup of comments from legal experts and Internet analysts, and observations from reporters:

  • “The Senate subcommittee showdown Wednesday over Google’s growth as a search and advertising titan seems likely to galvanize the growing interest in Washington over the size and competitiveness of its wide-ranging business.” –By Tony Romm, Politico, 9/21/11
  • “It strongly suggested that Google lacks a significant base of political support in Congress: Senators from both parties used the session to assail the iconic Internet company’s business practices. They questioned whether Google has an insurmountable conflict of interest – controlling the overwhelming majority of Web searches while at the same time creating products that it has a financial interest to steer users to.”–By Mike Zapler, PoliticoPro, 9/22/11
  • Chairman Herb Kohl, a Democrat, and Utah Republican Mike Lee both seemed to agree that Google was a monopolist that needed to be restrained. Lee aggressively went after Schmidt like a cross-examining lawyer at trial. Lee presented a scatter plot chart showing that Google’s shopping/product search results consistently appeared in the same position on the page, while competitors’ results fluctuated. “Yelp’s testimony made Google look like an unfair competitor using its dominant market power to wring concessions from a smaller company dependent on it for 75 percent of its traffic… The message is that competition and the ability to compete are being diminished by Google’s behavior.

“While none of these remarks were new, for those who hadn’t been paying attention (including many in Washington) they may be surprising and harmful to Google’s image. For those inclined to believe that Google is anti-competitive, they will confirm that viewpoint.“

Given what came out today it seems almost certain to me that there will be some kind of case ultimately brought against Google.” –By Greg Sterling, SearchEngineLand, 9/21/11

  • “At one point, [Schmidt] seemed to admit that Google’s market share in Internet search was ‘in the area’ of a monopoly. He was later contradicted, though, by Google’s outside counsel, who said Google didn’t have a monopoly.” –By Nathan Koppel, WSJ Law Blog, 9/22/11
  • “Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, the antitrust subcommittee ranking Republican, said Google had ‘cooked it’ so its own products and services were given priority over those of competing companies in its search results.” –By Thomas Catan and Siobhan Hughes, The Wall Street Journal, 9/22/11
  • “In other words, Google’s business is perpetually at risk and its dominance potentially fleeting. An interesting slice of humble pie for a company with a full two-thirds of the U.S. search market to be serving up to the committee. Does Google really expect it to buy the pitch that it’s not all that important or powerful in the industry?” –By John Paczkowski, All Things Digital, 9/21/11
  • The Internet is too important to allow an unregulated monopolist to dominate it. Google’s unfettered ability to exercise monopoly power with our data must be checked by giving consumers the right to control how data about our online activities is used, or preventing Google from gathering it all.”–John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director Inside Google, 9/21/11
  • “One bumpy moment arose when Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl pressed Schmidt about why Google’s own services, such as Google Finance, achieve such high placements among search results. Schmidt’s initial answer didn’t satisfy Kohl, who pulled up a less diplomatic explanation from a Google lieutenant in a 2007 interview: ‘We do all the work for the search page … so we do put it first.’” –By George Anders, Bloomberg, 9/21/11
  • “Among all the other differences between Google at its competitors, the biggest one has to be that none of them sold illegal drugs and had seven successful sting operations run on them proving they sold illegal drugs. But as I always say, you can’t call yourself a CEO of a Fortune 100 company if you’ve never taken the 5th.  So now Schmidt has gained admission to that club. But if ‘Blame Bing’ is the best they came up with, then this is going to be an interesting ride.” –By Chris Castle, Music, Technology, Policy, 9/22/11
  • Key messages from Senators: (1) Google has incentives to favor its own properties in search results, which could harm competition and innovation; (2) Google may be dominating mobile search partly through bundling Google features with Android; and (3) Google should take voluntary remedial measures to avoid more direct regulation.” –Paul Gallant, Telecom Policy Analyst, MF Global, 9/22/11 “Tough Day for Google in Washington”
  • “Google Chairman Eric Schmidt took a hot seat in front of a U.S. Senate antitrust subcommittee Wednesday and struggled to convince its members that his company is not an anticompetitive monopoly.

Schmidt’s inquisitors, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota, bored in on accusations that the world’s dominant Internet search engine unfairly favors its own products and advertisers in its rankings and in doing so misleads consumers who think they are getting unbiased results. –By Jim Spencer, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/21/11

  • Google chairman Eric Schmidt yesterday got his chance to defend the company against anti-trust complaints – but admitted that it was ‘in the area’ of a monopoly.” –By Emma Woollacott, TechWatch, 9/22/11

For Google, there is almost certainly more scrutiny to come. One can only imagine the focus on the company’s anticompetitive business practices will only intensify.