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Yelp CEO Discusses His Efforts To Convince Congress That Google Is A Monopoly


Today's events in Congress suggest that lawmakers are getting serious about tech giants. There are three hearings looking at how much power Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have. One company that has been pushing for this kind of oversight for years is Yelp. The review service has been saying that Google is trampling competitors, and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman joins us now.


JEREMY STOPPELMAN: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: To start just briefly, why do you believe that Google is a monopoly?

STOPPELMAN: Oh, well, I think it's obvious that Google is a monopoly. You really can't search the Web without turning to them. You know, they have the dominant browser, Chrome, which a lot of people search through. Of course, people go to Google directly. And then if you go on your iPhone, you even end up on Google when you type into that search box in Safari.

SHAPIRO: And what does that mean for you, Yelp, a company that offers reviews of local businesses, restaurants, et cetera?

STOPPELMAN: Well, over the years, Google has built out a similar property to Yelp, which is in Google Maps these days. And they actually bias their Web search such that their property, Google Maps, shows up first. And it makes it really hard to find Yelp these days in search results.

SHAPIRO: But Google says that it is just giving users what they want, which is results to the question without having to go to another page - Yelp - and ask the question again.

STOPPELMAN: That's a great point. And I think, you know, if a consumer is typing in 2 plus 2, they should absolutely see the answer is 4. But when you're looking for a pediatrician and your child is sick, you want the best results. You want to know, where is there a trusted doctor? And Google might not be able to provide that. That's dependent on the content that they've collected versus the content that other sites, like Yelp, might have.

SHAPIRO: You were on Capitol Hill last week talking with lawmakers. Tell me about the kind of responses you got.

STOPPELMAN: The mood in Washington is quite different from when we first started on this issue. You know, I began down the path of talking to regulators back in 2011, and there does seem to be a lot more political on both sides to really scrutinize Google, as well as other big tech firms.

SHAPIRO: What do you think has changed?

STOPPELMAN: I think, you know, in the wake of 2016...

SHAPIRO: You mean the election interference.

STOPPELMAN: Yeah. I mean, I just think people realize that just a couple companies control a massive amount of human attention. And the decisions that they're making - the algorithm decisions - actually affect what people think and what they see. And I think that's troubling to both sides.

SHAPIRO: You've been focusing on Google, but presumably, anything Washington does would apply to the tech industry as a whole. Broadly speaking, what do you think a more fair world would look like in this arena?

STOPPELMAN: You know, I think it's about creating a level playing field - making sure that if you're a monopoly, you can't block startups, you can't block innovative competitors and protect your monopoly. So in the case of Google, you know, it's actually come out in documents that they were fearful of Yelp in the local space. And so they actually degraded their search results knowingly to push their own product and make sure that that competitor, you know, stayed in its cage.

SHAPIRO: Tell me about what regulation that you would be comfortable with would look like. I mean, what would the law actually do?

STOPPELMAN: I mean, in our specific vertical, when you're searching for a pediatrician when a child is sick, we just think you should get the best of what's on the Web. And so if Google doesn't have the best answer - which, by the way, it often doesn't in local - it should be willing to surface, you know, other resources with the same prominence it surfaces its own content.

SHAPIRO: That seems kind of subjective. I mean, it's hard to imagine Congress writing that into a law.

STOPPELMAN: I don't think so. I mean, you know, Google itself has supported things like net neutrality. And so we simply ask the question, what about search neutrality?

SHAPIRO: When you started this fight, you were kind of a lone wolf in Silicon Valley complaining about Google. Do you sense that other tech companies have started to join you in criticizing the big guys?

STOPPELMAN: Well, we have been the lone wolf when it comes to speaking out on this issue. There is no shortage of companies that have issues with Google and its behavior. It's just that Google is so powerful and so many companies are reliant on Google in various ways that they simply can't speak out. Many of them come to me privately to talk about their issues.

SHAPIRO: Europe has been far ahead of the U.S. in this movement. I mean, Europe has already fined Google for monopolistic behavior. Do you think the U.S. is likely to catch up with the Europeans?

STOPPELMAN: I certainly hope so. Vestager in Europe, the competition chief there, has done a great job leading the way in identifying some of these issues far before U.S. regulators really took it seriously. And so that's great, but Europe still has more work to do. And you know, we are encouraged that U.S. regulators are finally paying attention.

SHAPIRO: Jeremy Stoppelman is the CEO of Yelp.

Thank you very much.

STOPPELMAN: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And NPR also reached out to Google today. The company said they have no comment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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