Demolishing The Reasoning Behind Senators Bogus Grandstanding Against Google

from the why-do-they-hate-success dept

I have no problem calling out Google when I think the company does questionable things, but I'm really at a complete loss over the desire of some in DC to attack the company these days. The best I can figure it out, they don't like the fact that Google is successful. Back in September there were those bizarrely clueless hearings against Google, which displayed (yet again) a technically clueless Congress wanting to "do something" about a situation they clearly didn't understand.

It appears that we're starting to see the next step in this charade as Senators Herb Kohl and Mike Lee are calling for an antitrust investigation by the FTC. Of course, we're pretty sure the FTC has been investigating Google for antitrust issues for a while now, so it seems a bit strange to send this letter (embedded below) now.

The letter is really quite ridiculous, and demonstrates the insanity of DC these days, where the highly misleading to downright bogus claims by lobbyists for one side are quoted by politicians as fact, with no admission where the numbers come from. Thankfully, the folks at TechFreedom wasted little time in writing what seems like the definitive response to Senators Kohl and Lee. You really should read the whole thing, but just a snippet:
To begin with, the letter asserts that "Google faces competition from only one general search engine, Bing," suggesting that only Bing (and it, only ineffectively) could keep Google in check. In essence, the Senators are prejudging an essential question on which any case against Google would turn: market definition. But why would the market not include other tools for information retrieval? Is it not at least worth mentioning that more and more Internet users are finding information and spending time on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, while more and more advertisers are spending their money on these Google competitors? Isn't it clear that search itself is evolving from "ten blue links" into something more social, multi-faceted and interactive?

In a remarkable leap, the senators then identify the specific alleged abuse that Google’s alleged market power leads to: search bias. That's remarkable because, other than the breathless claims of disgruntled competitors (given plenty of air time at the September hearing), there is actually no evidence that search bias is, in fact, harmful to consumers—which is what antitrust is concerned with. (Read both sides of this debate in TechFreedom's free ebook, The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet.)

As our colleague, Josh Wright, has thoroughly demonstrated, this "own-content" bias is actually an infrequent phenomenon and is simply not consistent with an actionable claim of anticompetitive foreclosure. Moreover, among search engines, Google references its own content far less frequently than does Bing (which favors Microsoft content in the first search result when no other search engine does so more than twice as often as Google favors its own content).
Making matters even more ridiculous is that the Senators parrot the claims of Google competitors/companies, who seem to just be jealous of Google, without questioning the sources. Thankfully, TechFreedom is around to step up and help provide some context and debunk some of the more ridiculous claims:
The letter also reports, again with no caveats, claims by the CEOs of Yelp! and Nextag that "75 percent of Yelp!'s web traffic consists of consumers who find its website as a result of Google searches, and . . . 65 percent of Nextag's traffic originates from Google searches," and that losing this much traffic to Google preferencing its own content would be catastrophic. But the letter fails to mention that most searches for brand names on Google are "navigational" rather than "informational." As Google competitor Expedia’s CEO recently explained:
The majority of, at least Expedia’s, and I believe Hotel.com’s traffic that comes from search to our site actually come through people searching for Expedia, for example. So in typing in Expedia in Google or so on, typing in Hotels.com in Google. So of the 25% for Expedia, for example, the majority of that traffic is someone who’s already looking for Expedia, and that person is going to find Expedia one way or the other because they are searching for something very specific. (Expedia earnings call, 10/28/10, quoted here).
Indeed, a recently published independent academic study conducted across search engines concluded that 52% of "business queries" (and 72% of organizational queries) were navigational. In other words, most of the Google traffic going to these sites was likely from users who simply typed in "Yelp" or "NextTag" as a convenient way of getting to those sites. Such searches are not diverted (and not even claimed to be diverted) to Google’s own sites, and the first search result for the search term “Expedia” will always be expedia.com. Thus, the majority of these searches that are claimed to make up 75% and 65% of the complaining companies’ traffic is not in any way threatened by Google’s business model, and is completely irrelevant to assessing the effect of Google preferencing its own content.

Furthermore, the letter does not mention Yelp's recent boast that over 40% (and growing) of its searches are now conducted on its mobile app—insulating it from whatever "power" Google might exercise over traditional searches.
Oops. If this were an honest debate about Google's practices, you'd think that the Senators would have been at least a little skeptical of such easily debunked claims by these companies. Unfortunately, in the world of politics today, that's not how things work. Actually looking at facts or understanding what they're trying to regulate is ignored in favor of going after targets that generate headlines.

And, of course, if you're looking for a thorough, detailed and devastating response to any time anyone grandstands about search engines without understanding any of the details, you should always go to the master on the subject, Danny Sullivan, who writes, Dear Congress, It's Not Ok Not To Know How Search Engines Work, Either, picking up on last week's meme about SOPA. Sullivan notes that the letter from Kohl and Lee is "jaw-dropping," not just in how one-sided it is, but in how superficial it is. Again, you should read the entire thing to get tidbits about how the letter seems to not even know what guidelines the FTC has already put out, and about how the Senators (rather shockingly) blatantly misquote Google VP Marissa Mayer and don't even understand what she's saying. But there's also this section, where it appears the Senators have simply no idea about the relationship of Microsoft and Yahoo and what it means relative to Google:
Bing: A Microsoft & Yahoo Production?

What really set off my alarm bells was this:

Bing, a partnership of Microsoft and Yahoo

Despite substantial amounts of staff time and money spent to have the hearings, the committee mistakenly believes that Microsoft’s Bing search engine is a Yahoo and Microsoft production.

It’s not. Bing is a wholly-owned part of Microsoft. Yahoo has no ownership in Bing.

But wait. Isn’t there a partnership? Yes, but one that gives Yahoo a minor role handling Bing’s ad sales to “high volume” advertisers. The deal came after Bing was launched. It wasn’t an essential part of it, nor does it help with Bing building consumer market share against Google.

If the committee fully understood the competitive space, they’ve have said instead:

Yahoo Search, a partnership of Microsoft and Yahoo

That would be far more accurate. That’s because Yahoo no longer has its own core search technology, nor its own search ad serving technology.  It gave all these up to partner with Microsoft (it would have kept them in a deal with Google. See our side-by-side comparison).

Heck, Yahoo’s former CEO Carol Bartz was quite specific that her goal was to use Bing’s technology as a way to somehow beat Bing at its own game. Bing wasn’t a partnership to her; it was the competition.

Bing & Yahoo Distant To Google?

Perhaps the committee thought that the “partnership” was the overall “search alliance” between Bing and Yahoo? If that was the case, then why did the letter go on to say

…which is a distant second in market share and is losing an estimated $2 billion annually…

Those stats only make sense if you’re talking about Bing itself, having a 15% share to Google’s 65% in the United States, as recently reported. If you’re talking about Bing and Yahoo combined, they come up to 30%, much healther competition.

It's really quite amazing that Congress can get away with such blatantly dishonest grandstanding -- but, on tech issues, Congress still seems to think that its own blissful ignorance is a plus when it comes to regulating. For those of us who live in this world, that's pretty damn scary.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    crade (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 1:10pm

    umm.. Google's competitors are still around, yahoo, lycos, dogpile, etc.. They still suck, just like they did before google ever came around, they don't count as competitors just because they suck? That is hardly google's fault.

     

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  2.  
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    Keith_Emperor_of_Penguins (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 1:45pm

    Re:

    Google? Bing? Yahoo? lycos? HA, those are amateurs!
    I use the Ask toolbar, its the best search engine in the universe!

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re:

    I have this thing called the MyWebSearch toolbar. Is that any good?

     

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  4.  
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    Keith_Emperor_of_Penguins (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 1:59pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    oh man, I am soo jealous of you. I heard that is the best and very hard to get. Apparently you have to visit some seedy places, and maybe you'll get it. Its almost as good as TotallyNotSpywareSerachBar.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Apparently you have to visit some seedy places, and maybe you'll get it.


    So, to spell things out explicitly: It's like a sexually-transmitted disease (STD) for your computer?

    Always good to know about those things.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 2:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I knew it was awesome! Thanks for letting me know!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    plockett (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 2:31pm

    A suggestion

    Here's an idea - if, as a legislator, you want to ensure that there is healthy competition in the search market, you could start by not trying to pass legislation which would present such a massive barrier to entry into the market that somebody would be less likely to set up a new search engine in your country.

    I'm thinking of the kind of law which would require a search engine to continual censor it's results in response to government demands.

     

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  8.  
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    anonymous, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 2:37pm

    dont know why Google puts up with this shit. they ought to back up and ship out to a country that appreciates it, taking all the jobs and the revenue it generates to other companies and the USA with it. perhaps, like with the impending SOPA/PIPA laws, once the US has totally screwed itself over, it will realise what it had and what it just threw away. nothing like not appreciating what you had until it's gone!

     

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  9.  
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    mrcanard, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 2:42pm

    Where were these fellows all of those years Internet Explorer held 70+% of the browser market.

    What would they be saying if the Google & Bing numbers were flipped?

     

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  10.  
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    jimbo, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 2:48pm

    and i thought all the idiotic ass hats were involved with SOPA. seems i was wrong and missed a couple! sorry about that!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 3:02pm

    I'm sure I'm not the only one, but I will typically search google for sites I frequent often just because I know it will pull up that site's link to click on. It's easier to type in wiki and click the link than to type wikipedia.com so that my browser knows not to do a search and instead do the normal DNS lookup.

    I think that elected officials need to allow occasional "job shadowers" just so we can figure out what the F they do all day to come up with some things.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 3:12pm

    Re:

    ... elected officials need to allow occasional "job shadowers" just so we can figure out what the F they do all day...

    The politicians spend 30-70% of their time raising funds for the next election cycle.

    This is directly related to the cost of television advertising.

     

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  13.  
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    MarksAngel (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 3:40pm

    My husband drives me nuts because even when I tell him what website to go to.. say worldofwarcraft.com instead of typing it in the address bar he always and I mean always types it into google and just visits the website that way. I know I'm weird for it bothering me but it's like ummm why couldn't you save yourself the click and just typed it in the address bar?!?!?....Anyway my point is I'm absolutly positive that he's not the only person out of the tons of people on the internet who uses google in this manner...so yeah most people already know what they are looking for I think.

     

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  14.  
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    Paul Hobbs (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 4:20pm

    You Americans are so screwed. You have the worst politicians which are like, real dumb, and they don't know nuffink.

    In Australia, we're so lucky cos our politicians are really awesome cos they're real smart and clever and they know stuff; like Stephen Conroy ("let's censor the whole Internet - for the children"), and Bob Katter ("there are no gay people in my electorate"), and Pauline Hanson ("we are in danger of being swamped by Asians"), and Tony Abbot ("Western civilisation came to this country in 1788 and I’m proud of that…").

    Hmmm. I think I'll shut up now.

     

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  15.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 6:44pm

    Re:

    As well you should. That's an awful deep hole you were digging for yourself. ;-)

     

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  16.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 6:59pm

    Re:

    You know, I just can't figure out the hostility of elected members of Congress for their hostility towards the tech sector in general, their inexcusable ignorance of it besides.

    I guess it's just easier to understand Hollywood and their whinging after coming to work following watching "Sons of Guns", that they downloaded just before retiring so they could watch it with breakfast. Kinda feel more manly and aggressive that way. And it's not piracy at all because they wipe it off their disk drive right after breakfast. Or they have their maid or other member of their domestic staff do it for them because they just can't seem to get the hang of that trash can looking thing up in the corner there and what it's for.

    That darned tech sector! Whatever happened to rotary dial telephones? Whatever happened to answering machines instead of this voice mail thing stuff? Whatever happened to the delivery boy with the paper? And why is the car telling me it's going to run out of gas, needs an oil change or the tires are low? And WHY does it talk to me and want me to talk back at it sometimes when I hit those funny buttons on the steering wheel? Why can't we just go back to everyone being happy with 55 Chevy's? Now THERE was car!!!!!

     

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  17.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 7:01pm

    Re:

    They'd be calling for Microsoft to get broken up again, of course.

     

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  18.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 7:09pm

    The more I ponder what happens with those elected to high office for an extended period of time the more I become convinced that the simple act of sitting in Congress, Parliament or a town council for a long period of years leads to chronic brain damage that only accelerates as the years pile up and lead to the early onset of a special from of Alzheimer's disease that the rest of us have been conditioned to thing of as somehow normal behaviour.
    This illness is more commonly known as George III Syndrome.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 8:41pm

    Re: Re:

    How do you define your term "tech sector"? Perhaps it is just me, but I have some difficulty identifying social media sites and the like as "tech". Intel? Yes. Pharma? Yes. Boeing? Yes. Facebook? Not really.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2011 @ 9:56pm

    Re:

    If Google was just a search engine this might be a fair point to make. However, Google long ago morphed into so much more, to the point that it has or will expand(ed) into areas far removed from just the search engine market.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    techflaws.org (profile), Dec 22nd, 2011 @ 2:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    It's the equivalent of AOL disks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    techflaws.org (profile), Dec 22nd, 2011 @ 2:52am

    Re: Re:

    So what?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    techflaws.org (profile), Dec 22nd, 2011 @ 3:01am

    Re:

    Agreed. I've seen this happen too and never got the point of it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    btrussell (profile), Dec 22nd, 2011 @ 4:58am

    Re:

    Maybe because typing "wow" and clicking twice is easier and faster than typing "worldofwarcraft.com?"

    Just a guess from a non-typist.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    harbingerofdoom (profile), Dec 22nd, 2011 @ 5:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    no. its not like.... it IS an std for your computer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    harbingerofdoom (profile), Dec 22nd, 2011 @ 5:36am

    Re:

    ...came to this country in 1788


    to be honest, he thought he was on ceti alpha VI...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Chuck Simpson (profile), Dec 22nd, 2011 @ 8:48am

    Issue selection is about campaign money

    The sad truth is that many of our congress-people and senators select issues to generate campaign contributions. The sponsor gets contributions from those for the issue, the opponents get contributions from those against it and the fence-sitters get contributions from both. I know this is cynical but it seems to match Occam's principle of the simplest explanation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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