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Is it time to break up Google?

19 Sep 2011

At some point in your life, there is a chance you may have Xeroxed a document, or possibly Hoovered your carpet. You may even have Photoshopped an image, or Facebooked an old friend or acquaintance.

This week, though, it’s the action of Googling that is coming under scrutiny, with the company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, to face a Senate antitrust panel that will question whether the search giant is unfairly taking advantage of its market dominance.

Google handles around two thirds of searches in the US and up to 80% in some European countries. Competitors say Google’s search bots give preference to businesses Google owns. Google says its algorithms are tailored for its users, and if people don’t find its searches useful they have plenty of other options, including rival search sites such as Microsoft’s Bing, product- and location-specific search sites, and social networks.

The antitrust investigation is reminiscent of the scrutiny Microsoft was placed under in the late 1990s. Former chief executive Bill Gates faced his own hearing in 1998.

Google has at least 25 lobbying and communications firms working on keeping the company on-side with the US government, according to the Wall Street Journal. In one small victory, Google has reportedly arranged for Schmidt to face the panel alone, rather than flanked by competitors as Gates was during his hearing.

The hearing is set for this Wednesday.

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