During a technology antitrust hearing on Wednesday, David Cicilline (D-RI) of Google CEO Sundar Pichai met about the company’s dominant position in search and its use of data to track potential competitors.
“The problem is Google’s business model,” Cicilline said, arguing that it was a pattern of anti-competitive behavior that allowed Google to grow while smaller businesses were crushed. “Our documents show that Google has evolved from a turnstile to the rest of the web into a brick garden that is increasingly keeping users on its site.”
Cicilline quoted specific e-mails from “more than ten years ago”; between Google employees discussing the growing site and traffic. Employees “began to fear competition from certain websites [and] websites that could divert traffic and search revenue from Google, ”says Cicilline.
For years, companies like Yelp have accused Google of stealing their search content, diverting clicks from their own sites and to Google’s sites. According to Cicilline, the committee’s investigation shows that when Yelp expressed these concerns about the company, Google threatened to decommission the website unless it was allowed to view its contents.
Hearing documents on “Online platforms and market power: examining the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google” pic.twitter.com/O50aFmg2kd
– House Judiciary Dems (@HouseJudiciary) July 29, 2020
“Isn’t that anticompetitive?” She asked Cicilline about Pichai.
Pichai did not directly address competition issues and replied, “When I run a company, I really focus on giving users what they want. We behave at the highest level. ”
Google is already the subject of several formal antitrust investigations by law enforcement agencies. The Justice Department and a coalition of state prosecutors are working on the probes of the technical giant, and California launched its own antitrust investigation earlier this month.
Cicilline specifically cited interviews with small businesses and emails from Google employees suggesting that the company is using web traffic surveillance information to identify potential competitors and increase its own search sites and products.
“These documents show that Google employees have discussed the ‘spreading threat’ that this website poses to Google. Any loss of transmission to other sites was a loss of revenue, “Cicilline said.
On Tuesday, Markup issued a report indicating that Google prioritizes its products and services in a significant portion of the links on the first page of search results.
The second half of Cicilline’s hearing focused on Google’s web traffic oversight capabilities to identify incoming competitors. Cicilline asked directly, “Has Google ever used web traffic surveillance to identify competing threats?”
Pichai did not directly dispute this claim. “Congressman, like other businesses, is trying to understand trends in the data we see, and we are using them to improve our products for users.”