Eric Schmidt is gearing up for the first of what could be many Senate hearings on Google's alleged abuse of its dominance in the Internet search business. The immediate and obvious comparison for Schmidt's appearance is the now legendary 1998 Microsoft hearing starring Bill Gates, his sweaty brow and questions about the future of innovation in America. The hearings aren't expected to lead to new legislation but rather to inform the ongoing Federal Trade Commission investigation into Google, leaving many people to speculate about exactly what's at stake when Schmidt takes the stand this Wednesday. For Google, maintaining the status quo is the top priority.
Let's start with the consumer angle. Everyone expects Schmidt to face questions about Google ranking its own services higher than competitors in search results. The New York Times explains:
Today Google, like Microsoft then, is both admired and feared. Google has used the riches from its dominance in search and search advertising to expand into video distribution with YouTube, smartphone software with Android and Web browsers with Chrome. It has added online commerce offerings in local retail and restaurants, comparison shopping and travel, and folded them into its search engine, prompting complaints that Google is giving its businesses preferred placement in search results.
"If it is proven that Google discriminates in favor of its own online properties, you certainly have an antitrust issue," antitrust expert and law professor Herbert Hovenkamp told The Times. Google, however, strongly insists that this is not the case, that consumers can search wherever they want. "Using Google is a choice," reads the company's official blog. "And there are lots of other choices available to you for getting information."