Google is preparing for an antitrust grilling over its search and ads dominance, and the past few weeks have given its interrogators plenty of ammo. Here are the big things to look out for. (GOOG, GOOGL)

  • On Wednesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai will testify alongside the chiefs of Apple, Amazon, and Facebook as part of an investigation into the growing power of Big Tech.
  • For Google, it’s just one of several antitrust probes it’s currently facing.
  • The past few weeks have given its interrogators plenty of ammo come Wednesday. But expect a few surprises too.
  • Here are the things to look out for on Wednesday.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

We’re on the eve of a historic hearing where the CEOs of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple will appear (via video) before the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee for a grilling over possible anticompetitive behavior.

Each company has its own box of concerns for the committee to unpack, but everything comes down to the same central question: Can you prove you’re not stifling competition?

For Google, its antitrust headache goes well beyond this week’s hearing. It’s already the subject of investigations in the US by the Justice Department and a group of 48 states attorneys general, plus Puerto Rico and DC, which could result in a lawsuit being brought against the company as early as this summer.

But this hearing will be a chance for the committee, led by Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline, to unpack whether these platforms have behaved anticompetitively, and whether existing antitrust laws should be rewritten to rein them in.

Here are the big things to look out for on Wednesday. And if you’re confused by all of the different antitrust investigations into Google right now, here’s a handy guide.

Search and advertising are top of the agenda. The past few weeks have given Congress plenty of ammo.

Sundar Pichai speaks during the presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco
CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco.
REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

With Google, expect the lines of inquiry to be pointed at the company’s vast and tangled search and advertising business. 

The committee will most likely dig into how Google uses its market dominance to promote its own products over rivals, and how it has hoovered up digital advertising networks to consolidate its ad business.

Over the past few weeks, several new reports have shone light on some examples that will give the committee even more ammo on Wednesday.

A bombshell investigation by The Markup, published Tuesday on the eve of the antitrust hearing, discovered that in a test of more than 15,000 “popular queries” Google dedicated nearly half of its first page of results to its own products.

Moreover, Bloomberg reported earlier this month that changes to Google’s search rules have made it more expensive for online businesses to reach customers.

And a recent report from The Wall Street Journal alleged that Google deliberately pushes YouTube videos ahead of rivals in its search results.

These findings could support a growing criticism that Google’s search engine promotes itself at the expense of competitors.

Expect Congress to have done its homework – and maybe offer a few surprises

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., left, chair of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, speaks alongside ranking member, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing with representatives from major tech companies, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., left, chair of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, speaks alongside ranking member, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing with representatives from major tech companies, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Associated Press

If the history of Congressional hearings with big tech has taught us anything, it’s that many lawmakers have struggled to grasp how these giants operate.

But expect lawmakers to have done their homework come Wednesday.

The committee has spent a year investigating all four of these companies, and says it will come armed with more than 1.3 millions documents collected from these giants, as well as knowledge gathered from testimonies by their competitors.

The committee isn’t the only one who’s done its homework. A sweeping civil investigative demand sent to Google by the Texas state attorney general last September, viewed by Business Insider, included more than 200 directives that probed deep into the complexities of Google’s search and advertising business.

The document asked Google to provide information on everything from its rationale for integrating various ad platforms, to how its Chrome browser tracks users across the web.

In short, lawmakers are getting better at this.

One thing is for sure: The committee won’t just be relying on the answers they get from Pichai and the other CEOs. They’ll come prepared with plenty of information, and maybe a few surprises up their sleeves.

The outcome could inform other antitrust battles against Google

Sundar Pichai
Sundar Pichai is now CEO of both Google and its parent company Alphabet.
REUTERS/Brandon Wade/File Photo

Google, which has already been fined by the EU three times for anticompetitive behavior, is now potentially facing multiple battles on its home soil.

Both the Department of Justice and a group of attorneys general for 50 states and territories are reportedly gearing up to bring at least one lawsuit against Google, which could happen as soon as this summer according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

And California, home of Google’s own headquarters, recently launched its own probe into the company.

The antitrust committee will be looking at whether these tech giants are abusing their power, and if so, whether existing antitrust laws must be updated. The committee says it will produce a paper by the end of the year, reflecting its findings and any recommendations for creating new rules.

Expect lawmakers spearheading the other investigations to be keeping a very close eye on what happens on Wednesday.

“All these investigations are learning from each other,” said Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a trade group representing digital publishers.

But expect the conversation to include accusations of political bias and hate speech

youtube bans white supremacist channel
YouTube banned multiple channels for violating the platform’s hate speech rules.
Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It’s highly possible the conversation may turn towards other issues beyond Google’s core moneymaking tactics.

Republicans may raise questions about anti-conservative bias on YouTube and other Google platforms.  The issue of hate speech on YouTube is also likely to come up.

While some of these topics risk becoming distractions on the day, the committee could well frame them within the core antitrust argument.

“Each of their issues that they can easily be distracted by are all symptoms of antitrust,” Kint said. “If you’re concerned about bias in the search engine, or hate speech, every one of those is because there’s a lack of competition.”

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