FairSearch, an Internet-industry advocacy group whose members include Microsoft, Expedia, and Foundem, hosted an event at the Newseum Thursday morning called “Searching for Innovation and Competition Online.” With its two panels, FairSearch purportedly sought to address the competitive landscape of the Internet search market, and evaluate solutions to barriers to innovation in that market. What followed was more akin to mudslinging and name calling.
The first panel briefly began as a higher level exploration of market dynamics in the online search industry, but quickly descended into what can charitably be described as Google bashing. Former FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour, now a private attorney whose clients include Microsoft, railed at Google for its “pattern of questionable business practices.” Harbour and other panelists referenced the multiple investigations across the world into Google’s business practices, highlighting a case brought in Brazil (which Google incidentally just won this week); the Google StreetView/WiFi imbroglio, for which the FCC fined Google $25,000 for obstructing the investigation, but found the company did not break any laws; as well as cases brought and lost by Google competitors like TradeComet. Supposedly all of these incidents shed light on how Google’s potential antitrust violations, but we can’t really see how. Rather, it made for an altogether confusing presentation.
Some panelists also presented inaccurate or debatable statements as fact, further obscuring the discussion. Among them: everyone agrees Google is dominant and that there are clear market definitions (the Brazilian court referenced above found Google’s market share was not monopoly dominance, and in fact the company is facing steep competition from competitors like Amazon and Facebook), and that Google requires Android manufacturers to keep its search engine as the default (a claim Google denies, and one that is manifestly false, given Bing’s recent grab of the coveted default search engine position for Amazon Kindle Fires, which use the Android OS).
Together, these circumstances made the event seem less like a high level competition discussion and more like a rhetorical pin-the-tail-on-the-search-engine. One last note – the event’s moderator, FairSearch spokesman Mark Corallo, began the discussion by announcing the results of a FairSearch-commissioned poll. That poll, of 800 “likely” registered voters, focused on public sentiment towards the FTC’s antitrust investigation of Google, and found 78% percent favored the FTC’s investigation into Google.
A friend of mine, and employee of the National Taxpayers Union, attended the event and attempted to distribute results of another survey, commissioned by NTU of 2,000 respondents. NTU’s poll found 76% of Americans felt increased antitrust intervention into the Internet market would be worse for consumers, and that 87% percent felt they could easily switch search engines if they weren’t pleased with the one they were using. She was promptly escorted out of the event before she could finish distributing the surveys, only managing to cover a single row of attendees.
All is fair at a FairSearch event…except, of course, inconvenient polling data.