Google 'rigs' search results, rivals tell senators

Google competitors such as Yelp and Nextag testify to the U.S. Senate antitrust subcommittee looking into the search giant's market power that the company doesn't play fair.

Moments after Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told senators "we get it" in regard to regulatory scrutiny, the search giant's rivals refuted the point.

Yelp's Jeremy Stoppelman testifying to a U.S. Senate antitrust subcommittee examining Google's market power. Screenshot by Jay Greene/CNET

"Google doesn't get it," said Thomas O. Barnett, a lawyer for Expedia, which fought Google's acquisition of flight data provider ITA Software. "Google won't even admit reality."

Barnett said the company is expanding its market power, growing in mobile phones and mobile search, in particular. And it's using that power to direct users to its services, rather than penalizing rivals who are direct competitors.

Some of the more direct criticism came from Nextag Chief Executive Jeff Katz. He testified that Google's results for product searches favor its own sites, not competitors such as Nextag.

"Google doesn't play fair," Katz said. "Google rigs its results."

That gives consumers reasons to not use Nextag, since most start their searches with Google.

"They are quietly, deftly, and assuredly moving us aside," Katz said.

Similarly, Yelp Chief Executive and co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman criticized Google for directing search queries to its properties. And he said it's motivated by the bottom line.

"They prefer to send consumers to the most profitable sites on the Web: their own," Stoppelman said.

Earlier this year, Stoppelman engaged in a public tussle with Google over scraping reviews from Yelp's site to use on its competing service, Google Places. He accused Google of running Yelp's local business reviews on Google Places without compensation. At the time, Google responded that sites like Yelp benefit from Google's referral traffic.

Google's outside laywer, Susan Creighton, testified that Web surfers can switch from Google to a competing service anytime. If Google doesn't deliver results consumers find useful, it's "free and instantaneous" for them to look elsewhere.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Stoppelman if he would start a company such as Yelp today, given Google's current market power and business tactics.

"There's no way I would start fresh," Stoppelman said. "I wouldn't even consider it today."

Updated at 2:55 p.m. PT with comment from Google's outside counsel.

 

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