Google’s universal search results — things like videos, news, images and local business listings — aren’t “separate ‘products and services’ from Google,” according to company chairman Eric Schmidt.
He makes that claim, and many others, in a lengthy written response submitted today to the U.S. Senate’s antitrust subcommittee — a required follow-up to Schmidt’s in-person testimony back in September.
One of the primary questions raised during that hearing was the notion that Google favors its own products and services in universal search results, placing them above potentially similar pages from competing sites. But Schmidt, in his written responses today, contends that Google’s universal search results aren’t “separate” at all, and thereby are immune to charges of favoritism.
…the question of whether we “favor” our “products and services” is based on an inaccurate premise. These universal search results are our search service — they are not some separate “Google content” that can be “favored.”
Schmidt is betting that he can make a semantic argument to sidestep the accusation. He’s saying that the content Google pulls in as universal search results aren’t really separate products at all. This is a claim he repeats numerous times throughout the written replies. When he says “these universal search results are our search service,” he’s suggesting that Google doesn’t actually have separate products outside of search. But that’s semantics. Google has separate products, and has consistently and recently referred to them that way:
- Just a couple weeks before Schmidt’s live testimony, Google announced a “spring-clean”, saying “we’ll be shutting down a number of products and merging others into existing products as features.” The products being shut down included things related to Google News and Google Maps, both of which are certainly part of Google’s universal search results.
- Earlier this year, Marissa Mayer talked about Google having too many products in Local.
- In announcing the closure of Google Labs, the company said “we’re prioritizing our product efforts” and referred to things like Google Maps Labs as an “in-product experimentation channel.”
The point? Google most certainly does have separate products and services, despite what Schmidt repeatedly told Congress today. It’s disingenuous, at best, for him to claim that YouTube, Google Maps, Google News and other Google products that appear as universal search results aren’t actually separate products. They are. But who knows if the Senators will buy his argument. They didn’t come across as very knowledgeable about the internet in general — and search more specifically — during the hearing in September.
Elsewhere in Schmidt’s written responses:
- He’s changed his statements about Google’s dominance in search. During the live hearing, Senator Herb Kohl asked if Schmidt recognizes that Google’s market share may constitute monopoly conditions. Schmidt replied then, “I agree we’re in that area.” But in his written reply to fellow subcommittee member Senator Blumenthal today, Schmidt says, “I would disagree that Google is dominant.” He goes on to say that the monthly search market share figures aren’t accurate because they only compare Google to other major search engines.
… we find that the monthly general search query figures released by comScore and Hitwise don’t reflect the reality of how many sites Google competes with in search. Google has many competitors that are not general search engines, including specialized search engines, social networks, and mobile apps. So inferring that Google is in any way “dominant” in search would be incorrect.
- Schmidt denies accusations that Google demands smartphone manufacturers make Google the default search engine as part of using the Android OS. “Google respects the freedom of manufacturers to choose which applications should be pre-loaded on Android devices. Google does not condition access to or use of Android on pre-installation of any Google applications or on making Google the default search engine,” Schmidt writes. He did not, however, answer a question about promising to never place this condition on smartphone manufacturers.
- He refutes claims that Google has penalized competing search sites. Schmidt explains that there are times when Google manually tweaks search results (spam, security, legal requirements and exception lists for sites that are “improperly excluded by the algorithms”), but says “we never take actions to hurt specific websites for competitive reasons.”
- Schmidt denied that Google Product Search results are consistently placed near the top of product-related search results. (You may recall there was a study/chart presented during the September hearing that showed Google Product Search results appearing in the No. 3 spot almost exclusively.)
[I]t would not be accurate to suggest that Google product search results are always displayed at the top of the search results page. Thematic search results may be displayed at the top, middle, or bottom of the search results page – or may not be displayed at all – based on our assessment of the likelihood that the user wants shopping results of this kind.
- He defends Google’s prior practice of scraping review content from Yelp, saying that “Google relies, as does every other major search engine, on the established doctrine of fair use in order to display snippets of text in our search results, giving users a preview of the type of content they can find for a given link.” Schmidt says this is beneficial to review sites because they get “millions of clicks a month” from having their review snippets appear in Google’s search results.
That’s an initial look at some of Schmidt’s six separate responses to the Senate antitrust subcommittee. We’re planning more analysis in the coming days. In the meantime, Google has posted the full text of Schmidt’s replies on Google Docs.