Monday, August 10, 2020

Taking the Worry Out of Moral Panic: @SenThomTillis, @SenMikeLee and Others Lead a Bipartisan Call for Investigation into Google Favoring YouTube in Search | MUSIC • TECHNOLOGY • POLICY

Let’s be honest–Google is not an honest broker in search results and probably never has been.  We began noticing how Google started favoring YouTube in search results as well as it’s other products.  So did Senators Tillis, Lee, Warren, Booker, Klobuchar, Hirono, Cruz, Hawley, Blackburn and Blumenthal in a recent letter to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Geographic and Local Services, Google, Inc.:  “[When] we roll[ed] out Google Finance, we did put the Google link first. It seems only fair right, we do all the work for the search page and all these other things, so we do put it first… That has actually been our policy, since then, because of Finance. So for Google Maps again, it’s the first link.” (at 45:10)

Senators Tillis and Lee and a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators want to know if it’s the same with YouTube.  Anyone in the music business no doubt thinks it is.  Try replicating this test–search Google for the Billboard top 40 of the Hot 100 singles chart.  Then try other search engines.  See what happens.

Professor Ben Edelman of the Harvard Business School published a study ten years ago that’s as relevant today as it was then.  Professor Edelman found “that available evidence indicates Google has “hard-coded” its own links to appear at the top of algorithmic search results” (see “Hard-Coding Bias in Google “Algorithmic” Search Results.”)

We also have found the hard coding to occur in Google’s info-box results for lyrics that point users to YouTube videos, so far showing all user-generated videos.  Think that’s an accident?  Here’s an example with Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”

American Girl Lyrics

This, of course, blows “search neutrality” straight out the window (however unsurprising it is that Google takes the worry out of moral panic and succumbs to the temptation of moral hazzard).  But it also raises some interesting questions for those who rely on Google to give a straight count in its royalty statements.

Senators Tillis and Lee sent this letter to both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission about Google’s manipulation of search to favor it’s own products.  And that’s not all they manipulate.


August 5, 2020

The Honorable Makan Delrahim                               The Honorable Joseph Simons Assistant Attorney General for the                            Chairman
Antitrust Division
United States Department of Justice                          Federal Trade Commission
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW                                    600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530                                                  Washington, DC 20580

Dear Chairman Simons and Assistant Attorney General Delrahim:

We write you today regarding allegations of potentially anticompetitive practices and conduct by online platforms toward content creators and emerging competitors. With public venues of all kinds closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, now, more than ever, content creators are dependent upon revenues from streaming and other online sources. Unfortunately, public reporting suggests that some online platforms are using their market dominance to provide preference to their own streaming services, skewing marketplace pricing and competition.

As both of you know, in the last several years, streaming services have become an increasingly preferred method by which audiences consume entertainment. From movies to music to audiobooks, our creative communities have embraced streaming, creating a wide range of options for audiences to access works digitally. This has become even more pronounced during COVID-19, as shelter-in-place orders have closed theaters and delayed new releases, making streaming services an even more vital part of consumers’ lives. During this time, with so many filmmakers, musicians, and other artistic communities dependent on digital streaming services as their only sources of revenue, it is in the national interest to keep the streaming marketplace competitive, open, and fair.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google and YouTube, has designed Google Search to specifically give preference to YouTube and other Google-owned video service providers.1 There is no public insight into how Google designs its algorithms, which seem to deliver up preferential search results for YouTube and other Google video products ahead of other competitive services. While a company favoring its own products, in and of itself, may not always constitute illegal anticompetitive conduct, the Journal further reports that a significant motivation behind this action was to “give YouTube more leverage in business deals with content providers seeking traffic for their videos….” This exact conduct was the topic of a Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing led by Senators Lee and Klobuchar in March this year.2

It is even more worrisome that this alleged conduct is occurring at a time when YouTube is bringing in record revenues from advertisements.According to information released earlier this year, YouTube received more than $15 billion in advertising revenue last year alone—or approximately twelve percent of what advertisers pay across the entire Internet.3 In total, over the past three years YouTube received more than $34 billion in advertising revenue.4

When viewed in the context of YouTube’s advertising revenue, the allegations raised by The Wall Street Journal are even more troubling. Accordingly, we ask that you thoroughly review this situation to determine whether Google’s algorithm is giving preference to YouTube and/or other Google owned video service providers, and whether such conduct violates the antitrust laws. We also ask that you inquire as to whether Alphabet/Google is using its resulting market dominance to gain leverage in business deals with content providers.

Of course, we do not presume that any such conduct has occurred or if it has that it automatically constitutes a violation of antitrust laws. However, given the concerns raised by this report, we ask that you review the allegations in question to determine whether there is anticompetitive conduct that should be addressed through potential antitrust enforcement.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We stand ready and willing to work with you.


Thom Tillis                                                                           Mike Lee
United States Senator                                                        United States Senator

Amy Klobuchar                                                                   Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator                                                         United States Senator

Marsha Blackburn                                                              Josh Hawley
United States Senator                                                         United States Senator

Elizabeth Warren                                                                Mazie Hirono
United States Senator                                                         United States Senator

Cory A. Booker                                                                     Ted Cruz
United States Senator                                                         United States Senator


1 Sam Schechner, Kirsten Grind & John West, Searching for Video? Google Pushes YouTube Over Rivals, The Wall Street Journal (July 14, 2020).

2 “Competition in Digital Technology Markets: Examining Self-Preferencing by Digital Platforms,” March 10, 2020, examining-self-preferencing-by-digital-platforms.

3 Internet Advertising Bureau, 2019 Internet Advertising Revenue Report (May 28, 2020),

4 Julia Alexander, Creators finally know how much money YouTube makes, and they want more of it, The Verge (2020).



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