50 U.S. states and territories announce broad antitrust investigation of Google

The Washington Post

Attorneys general for 50 U.S. states and territories on Monday officially announced an antitrust investigation of Google, embarking on a wide-ranging review of a tech giant that Democrats and Republicans said may threaten competition, consumers and the continued growth of the web.

Appearing on the steps of the Supreme Court, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Google “dominates all aspects of advertising on the Internet and searching on the Internet,” though he said it is an investigation for now and not a lawsuit.

Paxton said the probe’s initial focus will be online advertising, a market in which Google is a leader, raking in more than $48 billion this year, according to eMarketer. But attorneys general from states including Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska and the District of Columbia each raised a raft of additional concerns about the tech giant during a news conference announcing the probe. Their concerns ran from the way Google processes and ranks search results to the extent to which it protects users’ personal information.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a dominant player when it’s done fairly,” said Sean Reyes, the Republican attorney general of Utah. He said there is a “presumption” of innocence in such an investigation but still said there is a “pervasiveness” to complaints about Google’s business practices.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The probe marks the latest regulatory headache for the tech giant and its Silicon Valley peers, which have faced growing criticism that they’ve grown too big and powerful, undermining rivals and resulting in costlier or worse service for web users. The Post first reported the probe last week.

Both the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission also are scrutinizing Big Tech, and DOJ officials issued Google their first legal demand for records at the end of August, according to a securities filing made by Google late Friday. The search giant said it expected similar requests to come from state watchdogs.

Another group of state attorneys general — led by New York’s Letitia James — has commenced their own probe against Facebook, exploring whether it violates competition laws and mishandles consumers’ personal information.

For Google, the state and federal probes come more than six years after the FTC wrapped up an antitrust investigation into search and advertising and opted against major penalties against the company, including breaking it up. In the meantime, Google has faced withering scrutiny around the world, particularly in Europe, where regulators have issued the company $9 billion in competition-related fines over the past three years.