Google insisted its chairman, Eric Schmidt, appear alone at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing next week on whether the company’s business practices stifle competition, according to a person familiar with the request.
The source said the Silicon Valley search company had agreed to send Schmidt as a witness only if he could appear alone. And lawmakers agreed to Google’s request because it was so difficult to get the company to agree to Schmidt’s attendance, the source said.
The move has invited more criticism toward Google as smaller competitors say Schmidt’s solo appearance will shield him from tough questions by other panelists.
“He [Schmidt] will be insulated from having to look startups like Yelp and NexTag in the eye as he tries to answer for his company's actions,” said Morgan Reed, president of the high-tech trade group Association for Competitive Technology.
Google would not comment about Schmidt’s solo appearance, only saying in a statement: “We’re looking forward to the hearing and answering any questions Senators may have about our business.”
Dawn Schueller, a spokeswoman for subcommittee chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) confirmed that the company had requested Schmidt appear alone.
Earlier this year, Kohl called for Schmidt to come as a witness as antitrust concerns surrounding the firm mounted. In June, Kohl, chairman of the subcommittee, threatened to file subpoenas for Schmidt and CEO Larry Page to testify at an antitrust hearing.
Executives of competitors Nextag and Yelp, antitrust attorneys Thomas Barnett of Covington & Burling and Google’s representative, Susan Creighton of Wilson Sonsini, are scheduled to appear together on a panel directly after Schmidt.
The hearing is expected to focus on whether Google favors its own properties in search results and puts competitors at a disadvantage. Lawmakers will also probe Google’s ability to display content from other Web sites such as Yelp in response to a user’s query, said MF Global analyst Paul Gallant in a research note.
Information from the hearing may help regulators in their respective investigations of the firm.
“The goal of the hearing is not to move legislation — it is to enable the Senate’s leading antitrust members to signal their views to the FTC and DOJ, which are both reviewing Google in different contexts,” Gallant wrote.