Google's Schmidt Hits the Senate Fan

Last Updated Sep 21, 2011 6:31 PM EDT

There was no way that Google (GOOG) chairman Eric Schmidt would get a warm reception when he testified before Congress today. And even though his experience will ultimately have next to no practical ramifications for the company, it was still painful to watch.

Of course, neither Google, Schmidt, nor anyone else associated with the company makes for a particularly sympathetic character. Still, the senators came brimming with television-ready outrage, not any particular desire to ask serious questions of Schmidt. What's more, the alleged nefarious behavior they decried turned out to be exactly the sort of thing they'd very much like to have done on behalf of their own constituents and, most likely, contributors.

Confederacy of dunces
The senators proved time and again that they understood little about business, competition, technology, or the Internet. For example, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah accused Google of "cooking" its search results because, in 650 product searches that his staff undertook, Google products came in the top three results.

What Lee failed to consider is that Google's search engine is biased toward heavily trafficked sites that have many other sites linking to them. Given that Google itself draws more monthly visitors than any other website in existences -- and that vast number of other sites link to it and its various services -- it would be rather peculiar if Google's offerings didn't rank so well in search.

Some senators made loose comparisons to Microsoft (MSFT) in an apparent attempt to reference a previous -- and much ballyhooed -- U.S. antitrust action against a tech company. But that whole case centered on Microsoft ensuring that only its own Internet Explorer browser shipped on Windows PCs. By definition, if a Google property turns up in the top three results of a given search, two of its competitors likely occupy the other top slots.

Hey, Schmidt-for-brains
Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat of Wisconsin, referred to Google's decision to put Google Finance links above links to other sites when people sought information on public companies. Schmidt had to point out to him that Yahoo (YHOO) Finance pulls in more traffic and users than Google Finance.

Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar mentioned an above-ground pool company in her state that dropped in Google's ranking and had to spend $40,000 in advertising to make up for it. And? Did Klobuchar think that Google was in the pool business? Or that it should fix listings so her constituent would come in first?

I'm the last to say that Google is "good." The company has some serious issues. Minnesota Democrat Al Franken brought up privacy, and that's a significant issue. But, really, making an antitrust violation out of the fact that people like using Google's search engine? Maybe it's time for Congress to focus on something more important -- like the banking system, the terrible state of the country's finances, a buckling middle class.

Related: Image: Flickr user jolieodell, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.