Google agrees to send Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt to testify in front of the Senate on Capitol Hill this September. The session will address antitrust concerns.
Former Google CEO and current Executive Chairman Eric
Schmidt has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust
subcommittee in September, a move to address concerns that the search engine
has grown too powerful online.
The move is a necessary backtrack from the world's most powerful
search engine, which is facing increasing scrutiny by politicians and regulators, including Senate and Congress members, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Justice Department.
U.S. senators Herb Kohl, D.-Wis., and chairman of the Senate
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, and Mike
Lee, R-Utah, in a June 10 letter asked Google to send either Schmidt or
current CEO Larry Page to testify at the hearing.
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) said it would instead send Chief
Legal Officer David Drummond, who has been with the company for years and in
2007 testified before the committee regarding Google's DoubleClick acquisition
and other matters.
This decision didn't sit well with Kohl or Lee, who
didn't want the hearing take the tenor of legal issues. The senators
suggested they might subpoena Schmidt or Page to force them to testify on Capitol
. That step was averted by Google July 8.
"We look forward to Eric Schmidt's participation at
our Antitrust Subcommittee hearing in September," said Kohl about the
session, for which no date has been set. "This will allow us to have a
truly informational and thorough public hearing."
Google explained its reason for the change of heart thusly: "Senators Kohl and Lee expressed a strong desire to
have our executive chairman appear in front of the subcommittee, and we're happy
to accommodate them," a Google spokesperson told eWEEK. "We
appreciate their willingness to work with us to make it happen this fall."
A source familiar with the situation said the fact that
the hearing was pushed to September also made it easier from a scheduling
standpoint for Schmidt, who travels the globe frequently as the public face of
the company and to broker deals.
Once the Senate threatened Google with a subpoena, there
was little chance Google would not acquiesce to the Senate's demands to see
Schmidt or Page in court. A subpoena--in which someone is forced by law to
appear in court to testify under oath--is exactly what the company doesn't
need right now.
Google needs to appear as cooperative as possible because
it is already facing a formal antitrust inquiry from the FTC
of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The FTC is looking into complaints from Microsoft, Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE), Yelp,
TripAdvisor and other bit search players that Google unfairly leverages its
power by subverting their rankings in search results in favor if its own.
Google faces similar charges in Europe and from the U.S. attorney general in
The agency, which negotiated with the Justice Department
to investigate the matter, will also look at the way Google treats its search
The Senate Subcommittee sessions could set the tone for
the FTC's investigation, which could take a year or more. Most legal experts believe Google will not face formal charges for violating antitrust
pertaining to deceiving users or engaging in unfair trade practices.
At the least, the investigation will keep Google more
honest than it ever dreamed under its "Don't Be Evil" motto.