Senators question if Google has biased search results

Google's Schmidt defends the company, saying its search is focused on providing the best results

By , IDG News Service |  Software, Eric Schmidt, Google

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt

Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt faces a wall of news photographers before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing called "The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?" on Capitol Hill, September 21, 2011.

REUTERS/Larry Downing

Several U.S. senators accused Google of giving search preferences to its own suite of services over competitors, but Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt denied that his company is manipulating search results during a hearing Wednesday.

Google's search results appear to be biased in favor of its shopping results and other services, and Google's own services always seem to appear near the top of its organic search results, said Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican.

Lee referred to a chart showing Google's shopping results consistently in the top three search results, while other comparison shopping sites moved up and down in Google rankings. It appears that Google has "cooked" its search results, he said.

Schmidt denied the assertions of Lee and other subcommittee members. "I can assure you, we haven't cooked anything," he said. Google is focused on delivering the best search results, not driving business to its services, he said.

Lee's chart appeared to be comparing searches for products with searches for price comparison sites, Schmidt said. "I'm not aware of any unnecessary or strange boosts or biases" favoring Google products, he said.

That answer didn't satisfy Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat. Schmidt's answer to Lee, saying he wasn't aware of any search bias in shopping services was "fuzzy," Franken said. "If you don't know, who does?" he added.

Schmidt's answers didn't seem to assure Lee, either. Schmidt's answers confirmed his "fears" of Google search bias, Lee said.

Questioned about the rankings for some small businesses rising and falling in search results, Schmidt told senators that Google tweaks its search results about 500 times a year. Google is providing a good service for the "vast majority" of small businesses in the U.S., he said.

"Not every website can come out on top," Schmidt said. "For every winner, there's a loser."

Google's search business model seems to have changed in recent years after an "acquisition binge" has brought the company into several new markets, said Senator Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat and subcommittee chairman.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, compared Google's early business model to a company that owned a racetrack but then began owning horses. "Your horses seem to be winning," he said.

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