Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and a panel of Senators have agreed to disagree over whether the search giant favours its own properties over competitors during his US Senate grilling overnight, recalling ghosts of hearings past and citing Microsoft as a cautionary internet tale.
Eric Schmidt(Screenshot by ZDNet US)
Schmidt's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust boiled down to "trust us". Schmidt referenced Microsoft as a company that looked unbeatable 20 years ago, but that ultimately missed the curve on mobile and other trends.
"The internet is the ultimate level playing field," said Schmidt, who portrayed Google as a company working to put consumers first over profits. "We focus on loyalty, not lock-in."
The early fireworks appeared when Senator Michael S Lee produced data that showed that Google's owned and operated properties often were among the top links. Schmidt said that Google aims to give answers quickly, and that, sometimes, engineering dictates that a stock quote from Google Finance is faster than the "10 links answer". That rationale from Schmidt also applied to Maps and other areas.
Lee asked Schmidt whether Google products and services are subject to the same search ranking algorithm process as all organic search results. He was intimating that Google favours its own "secondary" product in search results. Schmidt explained that if Google knows the answer to a query, "it is better for the consumer for us to answer the question," and use our data resources. "I am not aware of any boosts or bias" in the search results, Schmidt said.
Lee gave an example of a product search where the result appears to include a result from Google consistently high up on the first page of results. "You've cooked it so you are always third," Lee contended.
"Senator, I can assure you we have not cooked anything," Schmidt calmly said.
Schmidt began his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee that focuses on antitrust, recalling a ghost of the committee's past: Microsoft.
Schmidt never actually mentioned its arch rival. But it's clear that the software giant was at the top of his mind as he delivered his opening remarks.
"20 years ago, a large technology firm was setting the world on fire. Its software was on nearly every computer. Its name was synonymous with innovation," Schmidt told Senators. "But that company lost sight of what mattered. Then Washington stepped in."
Of course, that's a reference to Microsoft's pitched battle with trustbusters in the late 1990s and early into the 2000s. Those battles led the Department of Justice to sue in an ultimately failed attempt to break the company apart.
Schmidt recalled serving as an executive at two companies that competed with Microsoft at the time: Sun Microsystems and Novell. That history has helped Google to work hard to avoid becoming another Microsoft.
"I'm here today, carrying a long history in the technology business, and a very short message about our company: we get it," Schmidt said. "By that I mean that we get the lessons of our corporate predecessors."
Schmidt asked Senators not to judge Google by recalling Microsoft's early battle. The internet is open, unlike a computer operating system. Customers can simply click on another site to try a rival's service, Schmidt said.
"I ask you to remember that not all companies are cut from the same cloth, and that one company's past need not be another's future," Schmidt said.