The Congressional antitrust hearing is underway, and David Cicilline wasted no time in setting the tone with an aggressive line of questioning to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
His first question: “Why does Google steal content from honest businesses?”
The question came after Cicilline revealed the committee had spoken to numerous small business who had claimed Google had “stolen content” from them.
Pichai managed to dodge the question by telling Cicilline he disagreed with the “characterization” before Cicilline moved on.
But the opening shot revealed some of the information that the committee’s year-long investigation had dug up.
“Most Americans believe that when they enter a search query that what Google shows are the most relevant results,” said Cicilline. “But increasingly Google just shows whatever is most profitable for Google.”
“We have always focused on providing users with the most relevant information,” Pichai responded.
Cicilline also specifically brought up Yelp’s allegations that Google had threatened to delist its website from search results.
And he referenced a recent report that Google favored its own products in search results.
“Isn’t there a fundamental conflict of interest between serving users that want to access the best and most relevant information and Google’s business model which incentivizes google to sell ads and keep users on Google’s own sites?” asked Cicilline.
It was the first moment that all four CEOs got a sense of what types of questions would be coming their way – and proof that the committee had done their homework.
“The evidence seems very clear to me. As Google became the gateway to the internet, it began to abuse its power and use its surveillance over web traffic to identify competitive threats and crush them. It has dampened innovation and new business growth and has dramatically increased the price of accessing users on the internet, virtually ensuring any business that wants to be found on the web must pay Google a tax,” said Cicilline in his closing remarks.
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