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After Tech Hearing, Tripadvisor CEO Blasts Google for Manipulating Search Results

— August 1, 2020

Tripadvisor’s CEO echoed concerns voiced by Congress: that Google is increasingly using its search algorithm to direct consumers to its own products, rather than the most relevant results.

Days after a congressional hearing grilled some of the tech industry’s biggest players, the chief executive of Tripadvisor is calling for further investigation into Google’s search ranking practices.

The Boston Business Journal reports that TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer recently questioned Google’s search ranking algorithms, and their underlying fairness. Tripadvisor, as the Boston Business Journal notes, relies on virtual traffic to find customers. In recent years, the company has suffered declining footfall, leading both to lower profits and mass employee layoffs.

Kaufer, in an e-mail to Business Journal, said that TripAdvisor welcomes any effort to rein Google in.

“The Congressional oversight hearing illustrates the importance of the multiple, global investigations into Google’s search business,” Kaufer wrote. “Tripadvisor welcomes enforcement of competition and consumer protection laws on what Rep. Cicilline described as Google’s deceptive efforts to, “[keep] users on Google’s sites even if Google doesn’t have the most relevant information.”

Part of the problem for Tripadvisor, says the Journal, is Google’s ability to leverage its “map products” to occupy significant space on its search results pages.

For instance, a consumer doing a Google search for “hotels in Chicago” will see a Google Maps listing of available properties before any other results—consequently pushing down the ranking for Tripadvisor and related companies, and potentially causing a decrease in incoming web traffic.

Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and chairman of the House’s antitrust committee, said Google—along with other large technology companies represented at the hearing, including Facebook, Apple, and Amazon—have and exercise the power to stifle competition.

“Our founders would not bow before a king,” Rep. Cicilline said on Wednesday. “Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.”

Cicilline particularly took issue with Google. He opened Wednesday’s five-and-a-half-hour-long hearing with a condemnation of the search engine’s transformation “from a turnstile for the rest of the web to a walled garden.”

But Cicilline’s suggestion—that Google increasingly seeks to keep users on its own pages, rather than allowing them to find potentially more useful information elsewhere–was resisted by Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

“We have always focused on providing users with the most relevant information,” Pichai said.

Amazon, adds NBC News, was similarly accused of manipulating and analyzing data from its third-party merchants to develop competing products.

NBC states that Cicilline’s investigation has the potential to introduce new legislation or guidance making it easier to sue large tech companies for antitrust violations—especially if Democrats manage to take control of Congress this November.

However, some conservatives did share Cicilline’s skepticism of the industry’s intentions. Even President Donald Trump sent out a tweet expressing concern about tech companies’ overarching, potentially monopolistic power.

“If Congress doesn’t bring fairness to Big Tech, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with an Executive Order,” Trump wrote on Wednesday. “In Washington, it has been ALL TALK and NO ACTION for years, and the people of our Country are sick and tired of it!”


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