State Attorneys General Launch Google Antitrust Probe

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The investigation of Google’s advertising practices is the latest to target tech companies.

A bipartisan coalition of attorneys general representing all but two states on Monday launched an investigation to determine if Google’s advertising practices have run afoul of antitrust laws.

The initiative, backed by attorneys general from 48 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, is the latest attempt by state regulators to pressure big tech companies that have also recently attracted federal scrutiny. The announcement comes just days after a separate group of state attorneys general said they will investigate Facebook. Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, a Democrat, said Monday that it remains to be seen whether the two investigations will represent a larger coordinated effort to probe technology companies.

Standing on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. to announce the Google probe, state attorneys general described their concerns with the search engine company’s practices.

“Google monitors our online behavior and captures data on every one of us as we navigate the internet,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican. “This investigation will initially focus on the capture of that information and whether Google embedded itself in every level of the online market ad sales to monopolize this industry.” 

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said she was concerned that the business practices of the search engine “juggernaut” may be depriving consumers of access to the best information available on the internet.

The goal of the Google probe is to determine whether or not the company played by the rules and acted fairly, said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.

“There is nothing wrong with being the dominant player if it is done fairly,” said Reyes, a Republican. “There is a fine line sometimes between aggressive business practices and illegal ones.”

The Justice Department launched a sweeping antitrust review of big tech business practices in July to assess whether technology companies engaged in practices that have stifled innovation or reduced competition. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission launched its own antitrust investigation of Facebook in June.

Earlier this year, Google was fined approximately $1.7 billion for violating European Union antitrust rules.

While the state attorneys general investigation is focused primarily on advertising practices, those who spoke at Monday’s press conference also expressed concern over data privacy issues.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the investigation, said the goal is to evaluate whether or not Google’s actions have harmed consumers. He said civil information demand requests were sent to the company but declined to specify what was requested.

A Google spokeswoman did not address questions about the investigation, but referred to a statement issued on the company’s blog on Friday. Kent Walker, the senior vice president of global affairs, wrote in the blog that the company has helped foster innovation and create more consumer choices.

“At the same time, it’s of course right that governments should have oversight to ensure that all successful companies, including ours, are complying with the law,” Walker wrote.

Consumer protection groups cheered the investigation and believe it can spur action on the federal level.

“Hopefully the states’ involvement also will put pressure on the DOJ and the FTC so that we avoid disappointing settlements that are nothing more than wrist slaps like the recent privacy cases coming out of the FTC,” said Alex Harman, a competition policy advocate at Public Citizen.

Charlotte Slaiman, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, said antitrust enforcement action alone will not fix the issue. She said Congress should also adopt pro-competition regulations.