Google Chairman Eric Schmidt will testify before the Senate today, as the antitrust probe into the Internet giant heats up. The company is under fire from rivals, including Yelp and Expedia, which claim that Google unfairly juices search results to favor its own businesses.
Recognizing the threat of an expensive and lengthy investigation like the kind that once bedeviled Microsoft, Google is hedging its bets in D.C. After years of donating almost exclusively to Democrats, the company has started trying to hire more Republicans and spread out its lobbying efforts; it will co-host one of the Republican debates with Fox, and has donated to prominent Republicans, including John Boehner. Still, despite the effort to make friends on both sides of the aisle, the company will face a bi-partisan inquiry helmed by a tea party stalwart and a Democrat.
Anticipating a wave of bad PR, Google’s news blog released a fact sheet that lays out their main defenses, at least in the court of public opinion: (1) Google is one portal choice among many — no one holds a gun to consumers’ heads, (2) it has moved to providing more direct product results because that’s what users say they want, (3) its algorithm is in a constant state of flux, and so it’s unfair to say that changes to it target particular companies. Google’s overarching argument, as Schmidt will lay it out, is that it designs things with users and not companies in mind.
A fact sheet is less headline-grabbing than the antics Consumer Watchdog has planned. The group will dispatch a troupe of mimes who will stalk people around the Dirksen Senate Office Building to “dramatize” the way Google tracks its users. Yeah, that’s going to end well.