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Yelp: DOJ Must Look at Google Search Dominance

Yelp! SVP public policy Luther Lowe joined the Capitol Hill call for the Justice Department not to restrict its investigation of Google to the ad market. 

Lowe was carrying that message to a Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing audience Tuesday (March 10) from Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp CEO, who had to stay back in San Francisco to handle "operational issues" related to the coronavirus outbreak--Lowe did not elaborate. 

The hearing was on "Self-Preferencing by Digital Platforms," which Yelp suggested fit Google to a T. 

Yelp was responding to reports that Justice was focusing on Google's ad market dominance rather than its search dominance, the same focus that concerned a bipartisan pair of senators, Antitrust Subcommittee member Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) joined and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who  teamed up to tell Attorney General William Barr that Justice had to look at search as well as the ad market in its Google inquiry.

"There have been concerning reports that the state attorneys general and the DOJ are pursuing incredibly narrow theories of harm in their respective Google investigations, only looking at advertising technology," said Lowe. "I believe making the focus too narrow would be a grave mistake. You can't look at Standard Oil without looking at oil; you cannot investigate Google without looking at search. That is what makes today's hearing — on the self-serving bias of companies like Google — so important. Dominant internet platforms like Google enjoy enormous market power." 

He alleged Google used that power to bias search and hurt consumers and spent pages of his written testimony making Yelp's case that antitrust intervention was necessary. 

That came the same day that Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen signaled to a Free State Foundation audience that its investigation into dominant online players could lead to a shakeup or breakup along the lines of an AT&T or Microsoft if the conclusion was that they were using that dominance anticompetitively.  

At the hearing, Hawley agreed with Lowe. He said while they are told the Google's value is its algorithmic relevance determination and it turns out it is manipulating those to preference its own content" and actively misleading consumers. 

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.