Google has Schmidt in the Senate

Search engine outfit Google has sent its executive chairman Eric Schmidt to tell the US senate that it has not cooked its search results to favour its own products and listings.

US senators took time off from abusing their power by stuffing up the economy and handing over more of the constitution to big business, to look into whether the search giant abuses its power.

According to Reuters, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel said that Google had grown into a dominant and potentially anti-competitive force.

We guess it is only a matter of time before it starts talking about weapons of mass-destruction and Google is invaded.

Republican senator Mike Lee said that Google was in a position to determine who will succeed and who will fail on the internet and has become the biggest kingmaker since Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.

Already, the Federal Trade Commission is looking into that charge and others, including whether Google manipulates its search result rankings to favour its own products. Schmidt said that was all unfair and even bought a handy chart to show senators how the success rate for shopping-related key word searches worked.

However, Lee pointed out that search rankings for price comparison sites such as Nextag, PriceGrabber and Shopper were different while Google’s shopping site consistently ranked third. He wondered how Google managed to come up magically third every time.

Lee told Schmidt that he didn’t know if this was a separate algorithm or whether Google had reverse engineered one algorithm, but either way Google has cooked it so that it is always third. Schmidt said that he had not cooked anything. Besides he had someone who did his cooking for him these days with all the cash he had made.

Schmidt argued that speciality websites like those with restaurant reviews and travel search give Google stiff competition. He said that Google had learnt a lot of the lessons from the Microsoft anti-trust legal battles.

Democratic Senator Al Franken was miffed at woolly answers from Schmidt about how Google prioritises its search results and whether it unfairly uses rivals’ content. He asked Schmidt about complaints from Yelp that Google unfairly nicks reviews to build Google Places.

Franken got cross when he asked if Google still used Yelp’s content to drive business to Google Places, and Schmidt gave the woolly answer “as far as I know, not.”

Some of Google’s rivals made their case at the hearing. Jeffrey Katz, the CEO of Nextag, a comparison service, said Google is now the internet’s neighbourhood bully.

He said Google doesn’t play fair and rigs its results, biasing in favour of Google Shopping and against competitors.

Katz and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman both said they would not start new businesses in the current environment.