Responses to Senate Hearing Witness Claims

9/21/11 | 8:36:00 AM

Below are responses to some of the claims made in prepared testimony for today’s Senate Judiciary hearing:

Jeffrey Katz, NexTag
  1. CLAIM: “Google rigs its results, biasing in favor of Google Shopping and against competitors like us. As a result, Nextag’s access is more and more discriminated against.”

    RESPONSE: We’re trying to provide our users with better answers, and we have found through our testing that when a consumer types in a query like “flat screen TV prices,” they want to see shopping results (plus, Bing and Yahoo provide the exact same kind of shopping results). Our algorithms are designed to give people the best answer, and we’ve designed a rigorous scientific process that is driven by user feedback. Google and NexTag are both vying to provide consumers with the most useful shopping results possible, and the great thing about the openness of the Internet is that consumers can easily switch from Google to NexTag if they don’t like the answers we’re providing.
  1. CLAIM: “Google says that competition is just one click away, but that is like saying move to Panama if you don’t like the tax rate in America. It’s a fake choice because no one has Google’s scope or capabilities and consumers won’t, don’t, and in fact can’t jump.”

    We’ve seen first hand evidence that consumers can, will, and do jump. In January 2009, a bug in our search results caused all results to be falsely labeled as “harming your computer.” During that time, search traffic to Yahoo! surged by 50 percent as consumers sought alternatives.

Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp
  1. CLAIM: “Google is no longer in the business of sending people to the best sources of information on the web. It now hopes to be a destination site itself for one vertical market after another, including news, shopping, travel, and now, local business reviews. It would be one thing if these efforts were conducted on a level playing field, but the reality is they are not.”

    RESPONSE: Sometimes the best, most useful answer to a query is one of the traditional “ten blue links.” But sometimes it’s a news article, sports score, stock quote, flight times, video, shopping results, or a map -- any of which we may place above or among the other results from across the web. Every search engine has shifted toward providing more answers directly in the search results -- because it’s what consumers want.

  2. CLAIM: “We again asked that Google cease its practice of co-opting content from Yelp for its own benefit. Google responded by removing Yelp links from portions of Google’s web search product, providing a new twist on the same old false choice: if we chose not to help power Google Local, we could not appear in the “merged” portions of Google’s web search results. To date, consumers cannot find links to Yelp in Google’s merged results, belying Google’s public pronouncements that “the competition is just one click away.”

    RESPONSE: Yelp's website continues to appear in organic web search results like any other site we index (for example, on relevant searches such as "restaurants" and "review site"). However, to meet Yelp’s demand not to use the content we crawl from Yelp for any of our local search services, their website no longer appears on results from precisely those local search services, including when those local results are on the search results page.

  3. CLAIM: “Is a consumer (or a small business, for that matter) well served when Google artificially promotes its own properties regardless of merit? This has nothing to do with helping consumers get to the best information; it has everything to do with generating more revenue.”

    RESPONSE: In fact, most of the click traffic (roughly two-thirds of clicks) from our local search result pages goes directly to small business websites, and review sites make up the next largest percentage (about a quarter of clicks). Less than 10% of clicks from our local results page go to Google Place Pages.

  4. CLAIM: “Today represents a rare opportunity for the government to protect innovation.”

    RESPONSE: Unfortunately, what Yelp and other sites are proposing is that the government intervene in one company’s product design -- specifically by regulating search results. While competitors may like that, ultimately we believe that regulation of search results will make make search engines less useful for consumers.

Tom Barnett, Expedia and FairSearch
  1. CLAIM: “Search is the critical gateway by which users navigate the web...As a result, search traffic is the lifeblood of innovation and development on the Internet, and search engines control the flow of that traffic.”

    RESPONSE: Search engines are definitely useful, but consumers have lots of ways of finding the content they’re looking for. Google serves more like a GPS on the Internet highway—not an on-ramp. It helps people get around, but it’s not necessary. If someone knows where he wants to go, he can navigate to those destinations directly, whether it’s Craigslist, the New York Times websites, or Consumers can also use a “map” (a list of links or portal like Yahoo’s directory), directions or recommendations from a friend (links from Twitter or Facebook friends), or even a mobile application (for example the NY Times or Yelp app).
  1. CLAIM: “At this point, Google faces competition from only one general search engine in the U.S. -- Bing, which is a distant second.”

    RESPONSE: This isn’t true. The Internet and the advertising space are both incredibly competitive, and Google competes against a broader array of companies than most people realize. In search, we don’t just compete against other general search engines (Bing, Yahoo), but new forms of accessing information, including specialized sites (Amazon, WebMD, eBay), social networks (Facebook, Twitter) and mobile apps. In ads, we compete for ad dollars every day against other forms of advertising, including TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and online banner ads.
  1. CLAIM: “Just last week, Google launched its own online travel search service. Notwithstanding the judicial decree and Google’s promise, the service excludes any link to online travel agencies, which are key options for comparison shopping.“

    RESPONSE: We’re excited about the initial positive reaction to our new flight search tools. But like any other partner, Google needs to honor the airline’s distribution decisions. With the flight search feature, that means that we can only show airlines in the booking links. We will be exploring opportunities within the page to showcase the products and services from other relevant partners, including online travel agencies and metasearch sites.
  1. CLAIM: “Further, the Google service utilizes a new version of ITA software that, now that Google owns ITA, is available only to Google, also continuing to undermine choices for consumers.”

    Under the terms of our consent decree (page 16) Google is not required to provide to other companies any technology that we develop exclusively for use in Google services. We committed to continuing to license ITA’s QPX software to airfare websites on commercially reasonable terms, and maintain that commitment. Furthermore, Kayak said just last week, “We’re confident in our ability to compete, and we believe our flight search technology is superior. We recognize Google is a formidable competitor but they haven’t been successful in every vertical they’ve entered.”
  2. CLAIM: “Users expect search results to be returned in order from most relevant to least relevant. As discussed above, when Google places links to its own products (e.g., News, Product Search, Places) in one of the top positions without any indication that these are “unnatural,” hard-coded links, the result is deceptive to the user.”

    There’s no evidence that these type of results are deceptive to user. In fact, Yahoo! and Bing provide the same exact type of results at the top of their results pages, which demonstrates that all search engines have found that users find these type of results useful.
  1. CLAIM: “In the absence of a competitive search advertising marketplace, the prices Google commands for advertisements are higher than they otherwise would be. Just as in the offline world, higher advertising prices are passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices on goods and services.”

    Google’s advertising prices are set by advertisers themselves, who bid what they’re willing to pay per click, and Google places no restrictions on advertisers moving their own ad campaign data to other platforms. In fact, the vast majority of our advertisers use advertising services from other online search engines in addition to Google’s. Barnett provides no evidence whatsoever that consumer pay higher prices because of Google’s policies.
  1. CLAIM: “Google’s tactics foreclose the ability of other sites to compete on the merits and to achieve the scale necessary to succeed. Without search traffic and the resulting revenues, these sites are unable to deliver innovative content and better services to consumers.”

    Google was built for users, not websites, and Google doesn’t “owe” traffic to any website any more than the Drudge Report “owes” links to the New York Times or the Washington Post. The fundamental openness of the Internet means that any site with a strong offering can find users.