Cloud Computing: Google`s Schmidt Asked About ?Cooked? Search Results in Senate Hearing
Sen. Mike Lee Challenges Google Search Results
Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) came after Schmidt aggressively by presenting a chart with information about Google search results for 650 different product-related searches. When Lee asked why Google ranked third in most of the results, Schmidt smoothly said he'd need to see the technical details to provide a direct answer, but added that Lee's likening of Google's product results and those of product comparison Websites are like comparing apples to oranges. Then Lee came right to the point of the hearing: "You've cooked it so that you're always third." Schmidt: "Senator, may I simply say that I can assure you we've not cooked anything." If that was the Senate's best play to trap Schmidt into saying something he might regret later, it failed miserably.
Sen. Mike Lee, Round Two
Lee, perhaps ruffled by his earlier unsuccessful bid to trap Schmidt into admitting Google monkeys with its search results for commercial gain, tries again.
Sen. Herb Kohl Seeks Contradictions
Kohl (D-Wisc.) tried to get Schmidt to contradict himself, noting that during a conference Google Local Search guru Marissa Meyer said that Google formerly ranked links by popularity, but "when we rolled out Google Finance, we did put the Google link first...That has actually been our policy since then. When Kohl asked whether this was counter to what Schmidt claimed earlier about there being no biases, Schmidt said, I can speak for the policy of the company during my tenure and I represent I implemented and understood it and in our case, we implemented the way I described it. I'll let Marissa speak for herself on her quote." This was another deft parry to a tricky question.
Sen. Charles Schumer Thinks Positive
In other cases, the hearing testimony showed that some of the senators would prefer to get in bed with Google rather than antagonize the company. Apparently, not all senators think Google is evil. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) buttered up Schmidt by telling him that most of the technology start-ups he spoke to casually said they viewed Google as a positive industry force. Noting that Google is building high-speed Internet service in Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., Schumer asked Schmidt to consider New York's Hudson Valley as a test site for the high-speed Internet service. Schmidt's response: "Absolutely."
Sen. Al Franken Goes to the Crux of the Matter
Franken fairly noted that Schmidt didn't clearly answer whether all of Google's results reflect an unbiased algorithm. "You said, -I believe so. That seemed like a pretty fuzzy answer to me coming from the chairman," Franken said. "If you don't know, who does? That really bothers me because that's the crux of this, isn't it? And you don't know. So we're trying to have a hearing here about whether you favor your own stuff, and you're asked that question and you admittedly don't know the answer." Score 1 for the Senate! It was a bad showing on Schmidt's part.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal's Lawyerly Approach
Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked an interesting question: "If we were a court and liability were found and the question were remedies, what would you suggest? Schmidt replied: "I have actually spent a lot of time thinking about this. We had a long conversation some years ago about how Google would behave to avoid being evil when we were big. We actually believe we have made those changes, steps and so forth. For example, we created the Data Liberation Front so we cannot capture or hold your data. If you wish to flee Google, we make it easy for you to do that with your personal data as well as your advertising data, so we think we've done the things to make sure we stay within an appropriate competitive box. We're certainly open to suggestions as to additional steps." This answer follows Googles long-standing philosophy. Still, "Flee" is probably not the word Schmidt should have used to characterize leaving Google.
Kohl Presses the Monopoly Question
Kohl came out swinging in round 2, clearly wanting to get Schmidt to admit that Google had monopoly power: "You do recognize that in the words that are used and antitrust kind of oversight, your market share constitutes monopoly, dominant-special power dominant for a monopoly firm. You recognize you're in that area?" Schmidt: I would agree, Senator, that we're in that area. Again, with apologies because I'm not a lawyer, my understanding of monopoly findings is, [that] this is a judicial process so I'd have to let the judges and so forth do such a finding. We have a special ability to debate all the issues that you're describing to us. We do understand it."
Lee Presses Question on Preferential Search Results
Lee came after Schmidt without preamble in round 2: "I just want to make clear and get a statement on the record under oath: Does Google give any preference to its own listings, places or shopping results, et cetera, in its own natural search ranking results? Schmidt said he was confused by Lee's use of the word preference. He claims universal search considers many search signals. "We give preference, but we give preference in the context of our best judgment of the sum of what the person wants to do." The answer satisfies Lee, but the senator said he is troubled that Google includes its own services, such as Product Search and Places, in its own search results. He said this is a conflict of interest. He has a point, but this raises the question of whether or not consumers feel the same way.
Blumenthal: Is Google Rigging the Search Race?
Blumenthal presents a racetrack analogy. "You run the race track, you own the race track. For a long time, you had no horses. Now you have horses, and you have control over where those horses are placed and your horses seem to be winning. And, you know, I think what a lot of these questions raise is the potential conflict of interest to use a sort of pejorative, but not necessarily to be critical, because you may have great products and you put them first and you may regard that placement as a service to consumers, but inevitably, that will stimulate the kind of criticism that has brought you here today. Schmidt responded: "So it won't surprise you, Senator, to say I disagree with your analogy completely. So I prefer to think of the Internet as the platform and you can think of Google as the GPS. ... Google does nothing to block access to any of the competitors and other sources of information. "