Eric Schmidt to Senators: Google Is Nothing like Microsoft

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Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Schmidt if Google didn’t use its market power in mobile operating systems to tie-in use of its services like Gmail and Maps. Absolutely not, Schmidt said, surprising Franken who apparently had not heard of the Bing-tied Android-powered Samsung Fascinate sold by Verizon, or the Yahoo-connected Motorola Backflip from AT&T.

“Android is freely open and so we couldn’t favor ourselves even if we wanted to,” Schmidt said.

(MORE: Stronger Online Privacy Regulation Comes with Tradeoffs)

Because its products are open source and it complies with open standards, Schmidt said several times, Google can’t lock in customers. And the fact that it has to operate on the Internet adds to that, he said.

“We live in constant fear that consumers will switch to other services,” Schmidt said. “One of the consequences of the open Internet is that consumers have choices they didn’t have two decades ago.” Again, implying that unlike the old Microsoft, Google’s customers can leave at any moment.

An exchange with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), highlighted this point. The senator drew an analogy between Google and a racetrack owner who operated races but never had horses in them. Now the racetrack owner also owns horses (i.e. Google Maps, Google Books, Zagat reviews, etc.) and his horses all start winning.

(MORE: Google Gobbles Up Zagat)

“I prefer to think of the Internet as the platform,” Schmidt responded. That is, the Internet is the racetrack and no one owns it.

In the end, Schmidt seems to have faced the grilling as best as he could: Polite, deferential, but pushing back firmly when he had to. We’ll find out soon enough whether the FTC and DOJ agree.

Jerry Brito is a contributor to TIME. Find him on Twitter at @jerrybrito. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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