Google's Eric Schmidt was the focus of a Senate Judiciary Committee anti-trust hearing Wednesday.
The purpose of the hearing is for members of the Senate to figure out if Google plays fair when it comes to dealing with much smaller competitors. The overlying thought is that Google may be too powerful in it's business wheel-well as an Internet search engine.
Schmidt told the gathered senators that Google faces tough competition and is not using its search dominance to stifle competitors.
"It's also possible to not use Google search," Schmidt said, claiming competition is just one "click away."
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During his 90 minutes in the hot seat, Schmidt faced tough questions from senators. Panel Chairman Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.,said, " We need to recognize that, as the
dominant firm in Internet search, Google has special obligations under antitrust law to not deploy its market power to squelch competition.'' Adding that hundreds of thousands of businesses depend on Google in order for them to be succesful.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he was concerned that Google's unrivaled growth and success could mean the next Internet entrepreneurs could be squeezed out of competing with the giant.
Schmidt was also challenged on Google's formula for ranking searches, which Schmidt said is changed every 12 hours or so.
Many are comparing Wednesday's hearing to something Microsoft faced in the late 1990s. In that case, the government went on to file an antitrust charge against Microsoft.
In June, the Federal Trade Commission launched a Google investigation to determine if the Mountain View company is violating the Antitrust Act.
The FTC has not publicly said what violation it is investigating, but it's been reported that the issues are whether Google favors its own products in its search results and whether Google prevents smartphone manufacturers that use its Android operating system from using the services of Google's competitors.
Schmidt's 90 minutes was followed by a new panel that would try to make the case that Google's behavior as unfair and, possibly, illegal.
The speakers included: Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, who says Google promotes its services by
cribbing comments from his online review site; Jeff Katz, who runs Nextag, a shopping search engine; and Thomas Barnett, who investigated Google's search dominance in 2008 while he was leading the Justice Department's antitrust division. Barnett is now aligned with a group of Google critics called FairSearch that includes Microsoft.