Mar 10, 2020 - Technology

Senators call for antitrust review of Google search practices

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

A bipartisan pair of senators, in a letter Tuesday, are urging the Justice Department to investigate Google's search operations as well as its advertising business.

The big picture: The letter from Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) comes as the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee holds a Tuesday hearing on ways that digital platforms favor themselves over their competitors.

Details: Hawley and Blumenthal, both members of the Judiciary Committee and former state attorneys general, cite recent reports indicating the Justice Department is focusing its antitrust investigation into Google on the company's advertising business.

  • But the senators tell Attorney General Willam Barr that Google's search operations merit scrutiny as well. "Narrowing the investigation’s focus such that Google’s anticompetitive practices to dominate the online search market is not captured does a grave disservice to consumers," they wrote.

What's next: Luther Lowe, Yelp's senior vice president of public policy, will testify at the hearing that Google has biased its search results to favor its own products to the detriment of Yelp and consumers.

  • In written testimony, Lowe also notes "concerning reports" that the DOJ is focusing narrowly on Google's ad business. "You can't look at Standard Oil without looking at oil; you cannot investigate Google without looking at search," Lowe wrote.
  • In response to Yelp's testimony, a Google spokesperson said in a statement, "We build Google Search for our users. Our users tell us they want quick access to information, and we're constantly innovating Search to help people easily find what they’re looking for."

Go deeper

Google's national coronavirus website rolls out

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Google late Friday debuted a new website devoted to information about COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus, including local information, prevention tips, search trends and additional resources for individuals, educators and businesses.

Why it matters: Google's effort, designed to help get the most accurate information before the largest number of people, has been complicated as Google has had to scramble to catch up to President Trump's pronouncements.

Trump's Google announcement raises questions

Photo: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

President Trump said Friday that Google is building a website to help people determine whether they need a test for COVID-19 and that "Google has 1700 engineers working on this right now." But Google said Verily, the life sciences unit of its parent company Alphabet, is "in the early stages of development" on such a tool.

Update: Google said in an updated statement Saturday it is helping with a national site, but it stressed the testing triage site is being done by sister company Verily, and they are aiming to start testing soon in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 15, 2020 - Technology

Tech's antitrust probes push on in face of pandemic

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Big Tech companies, like other U.S. institutions, have donned a mantle of public service by mobilizing to help combat the coronavirus epidemic — but they still have big antitrust targets on their back.

The big picture: Federal and state enforcers and Washington lawmakers are all investigating potential anticompetitive practices by tech giants like Google and Facebook. The pandemic has complicated the timelines of these probes, but hasn't knocked them off their tracks.