Google Chairman Testifies Before Antitrust Panel
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
When you look something up on the Internet, where do you go? If you answer Google, you've got lots of company. Many of us use Google for practically everything, from search, to email, to social networking. Well, some say Google is acting like a monopoly, and CEO Eric Schmidt was on Capitol Hill today to defend the company.
NPR's Yuki Noguchi has been following today's Senate hearing. And, Yuki, is Google actually being accused of violating antitrust law here?
YUKI NOGUCHI: Not formally, Melissa. The European Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are looking into this. They've opened inquiries into the company, but there's no actual charges. The senators are obviously interested enough to hold these hearings, but on the whole, you know, they seemed - the tone today was more fact-finding than finger-pointing.
BLOCK: And Congress also heard testimony from some of Google's competitors. They say the company is not behaving properly. What did they tell Congress?
NOGUCHI: Well, essentially, they're saying that Google's search engine is rigged. And, you know, Yelp is one of the companies that's saying this. This is a consumer review website. And it says that Google steals its content, then it - you know, when you do a search for, say, a restaurant, that Google puts its site - its own site over Yelp's. And this is what Google's Eric Schmidt had to say about that.
ERIC SCHMIDT: Not every website can come on top. It's a ranking problem. And there are definitely complaints from businesses who want to be first in rankings even when they're not the best match, as best we can tell, for user search.
NOGUCHI: But Yelp and, you know, some of the other companies dispute that also. I mean, they say that Google's like a mob boss. You know, they say that Google threatens to delist Yelp from its search results if it doesn't comply with this system. And, of course, Yelp can't really afford that because it depends so much on Google for traffic.
BLOCK: It sounds, Yuki, like a skirmish between private companies. There are, of course, other search engines. How do they argue that this is, in fact, a monopoly?
NOGUCHI: Right. So this is what Google would say. Google would say you have a choice. You don't like us, go somewhere else and take your ad dollars there. But, you know, that's not the only thing that's stoking interest here because Google's empire is so rapidly expanding. It's so powerful in so many ways. You know, it's changed the way we interact with news, with social networking, Smartphones. And when you have a growing grip on power like that, it makes regulators nervous, or at least very attentive.
BLOCK: It's interesting that Google's biggest rival, Microsoft, was not on the panel before Congress today. Why not?
NOGUCHI: Well, just because their nametag isn't there doesn't mean they're not actually influencing this. I mean, Thomas Barnett is a private attorney who was testifying today. He represents an anti-Google coalition called FairSearch. And Barnett has represented Microsoft, at least in the past, and of course, Microsoft is a member of FairSearch. So you could say actually Microsoft did have a seat at the table.
BLOCK: OK. Now, Microsoft has faced anti-trust cases itself, both in the U.S. and in Europe. Is there a comparison to be drawn here between Microsoft, what it faced and what Google conceivably could face?
NOGUCHI: Well, you know, that's debatable. Microsoft was charged in the late 1990s with bundling together its operating system with its browser. And of course, back then, everyone was using Microsoft operating systems. So the charge was that Microsoft leveraged that near monopoly to force people to use its Internet browser. Microsoft, of course, ultimately settled that case in the U.S. and paid hefty fines in Europe.
Now, Google would say that that's not a good comparison because the Web is very different. You can click away from Google if you don't want to use it. But, you know, the truth is any time you have a company that's as successful and as dominant as Google - or Microsoft before it - you're going to draw scrutiny. And you will have those rivals who have a financial and possibly legal interest in saying very loudly that there's an anti-trust issue.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Yuki Noguchi. Yuki, thanks so much.
NOGUCHI: Thank you, Melissa.
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