Is Google's search business so big that the company tries to use its influence to crush its rivals in other businesses? That was the question that US Senators wanted an answer to from Google's Executive Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt. Reuters reports that Schmidt was in Washington DC on Wednesday to be grilled by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel. The committee is examining if Google's position as the number one provider of search on the Internet has caused the company to engage in anti-competitive practices.
One charge leveled by some people against Google is that the company actually manipulates its search results to point to Google's own products. An example was given during the hearing where Google's shopping service always came up third when shopping keywords are typed into Google. Republican Senator Mike Lee told Schmidt, "I see you magically coming up third every time. I don't know whether you call this a separate algorithm or whether you've reverse engineered one algorithm, but either way you've cooked it, so that you're always third." Schmidt flat out denied that accusation, saying, "Senator, may I simply say that I can assure you we've not cooked anything."
In fact Schmidt testified that Google actually has a lot of competition in a number of areas including restaurants and shopping reviews. But that's not how some of its rivals see it. Jeffrey Katz, the CEO of the shopping comparison web site Nextag, offered a written testimony for the hearing where he said, "Google doesn't play fair. Google rigs its results, biasing in favor of Google Shopping and against competitors like us."