Google downplays dominance

Chairman points to ‘competitive landscape’

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Google’s executive chairman tried to convince lawmakers Wednesday that the search-engine giant faces steep competition and isn’t as dominant in the marketplace as it’s perceived.

Eric Schmidt testified before the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee that the company fights for business with other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo, shopping sites such as Amazon and eBay, and social-networking leader Facebook, as well as smartphone and mobile application companies, among others.

“One of the main drivers of Google’s constant innovation is the fact that we face an extremely competitive landscape in which consumers have a multitude of options to access information,” Mr. Schmidt said. “If we want consumers to keep coming back to Google, we have to give them the best possible experience. And that pushes us to keep putting consumers first.”

Many committee members weren’t buying it. Chairman Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat, fears Google is bullying competitors left and right.

“In the last few years, Internet businesses that compete with Google’s new products and services have complained that Google is now behaving in a way contrary to free and fair competition,” he said.

Yelp is one of those competitors. Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder and CEO, pleaded his case for the Senate to stop Google from running away with the online restaurant review business.

Google is no longer in the business of sending people to the best sources of information on the Web,” Mr. Stoppelman said

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating Google after receiving complaints the search engine is biased when it comes to the order in which it displays websites after users submit a search request.

Mr. Schmidt argued Google, which was founded in 1998, is far from running away with the industry. He hinted that the fiercest competition might not be coming from other search engines but from new technology breakthroughs, such as social media.

“For example, let’s say you’re looking for a local restaurant,” he explained. “You might search on Google for ‘local restaurant,’ but increasingly people are going onto Facebook and Twitter to ask their friends for restaurant recommendations.”

It’s the same story with online shopping.

“Well-known shopping sites like Amazon, Wal-Mart and eBay are essentially search engines that focus on product search and provide customers with an opportunity to buy a good at the end of their search,” he added. “In this category, they have been extremely successful.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said he had an open mind when he surveyed companies in his area about Google. As it turns out, 4 in 5 said Google was good for business.

“Frankly, I expected them to attack Google,” he said. “But they didn’t.”

They told him, he said, “It helps us more than it hurts.”

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