Google’s Schmidt unfazed by antitrust probes

Google is co-operating with a US antitrust investigation but is confident it has done nothing illegal to secure its position as the dominant search provider in the country, executive chairman Eric Schmidt said on Monday.

The Federal Trade Commission announced last week that it was investigating Google’s business practices for possible antitrust violations in the US, where it now controls about two-thirds of the internet search market.

Google is also facing a European Union investigation into its hold on the search market in Europe.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Schmidt said he understood how Google’s dominant position in the search market might invite scrutiny. “I think it’s reasonable to say that the governments have a role here. If I was a member of the government I’d want to check out what Google was doing.”

But he said it remained unclear what practices both the US and EU authorities were investigating. “We don’t know what the ‘complaint’ is. So far the complaints I have seen have been from competitors and I believe they are largely without merit.”

Google did not believe it had violated the law at any point. “We’re a law-abiding company,” he said on the sidelines of a conference organised by the company’s new think-tank, Google Ideas. “But more importantly we’ve made a commitment to both [US and EU authorities] that we will fully co-operate with them ... They have got a job to do. So I will meet with them, other executives will meet with them and we’ll spend lots of time talking about it and trying to understand.”

“If there’s an interpretation [of regulations] that we don’t understand, if there’s a regulatory issue that we don’t understand, we certainly want to hear it. But I would be suspicious about complaints from other competitors,” he said.

Some commentators compare the growing scrutiny of Google worldwide to that faced by Microsoft in the 1990s, which led the software company into a series of legal settlements in the US and elsewhere.

But Mr Schmidt, a former executive at Sun Microsystems and Novell, said it was both too early to mention any settlement and “unfair” to compare Google’s business practices to Microsoft’s. “It’s obviously unfair” to compare Google and Microsoft, he said. “Just look at the history of Microsoft.”

In a blog post responding to news of the FTC investigation last week Google denied the new probe was “Microsoft Redux”. Using a search engine was very different for consumers than having a computer with a pre-loaded operating system that restricts software choices, Google said.

“Each time a user searches on Google they are choosing to do so, and they can switch at zero cost.”

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