USA states, territories launch Google antitrust probe

Andrew Cummings
September 10, 2019

Attorneys general from 48 US states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have opened an antitrust probe into big tech companies that focuses on Alphabet's Google, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton formally announced on Monday. Google "dominates all aspects of advertising on the Internet and searching on the Internet", Paxton told reporters during a press conference. As he put it, "They dominate the buyer side, the seller side, the auction side, and the video side with YouTube".

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody echoed the sentiment. Their early rebukes raised the stakes for Google, threatening top-to-bottom scrutiny of its sprawling business beyond just ads. "We will go where the facts lead us to both protect our consumers and to ensure a free and competitive market".

Utah AG Sean Reyes said the probe was "for the benefit of the tech ecosystem to help level the playing field".

At the same time, the FTC said Google agreed to end the practice of "scraping", or misappropriating competitors' content such as user-generated reviews of restaurants.

Fifty U.S. states and territories, led by Texas, announced an investigation into Google's "potential monopolistic behavior".

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.

Google's parent Alphabet said on Friday the Department of Justice in late August requested information and documents related to prior antitrust probes of the company. The company added in a securities filing that it expects similar investigative demands from state attorneys general and that it is cooperating with regulators. European regulators have charged Google with abusing that power and, following years-long investigations, they issued multi-billion-dollar fines.

As reported by The Washington Post, numerous state attorneys general (AG) announced the far-reaching investigation outside of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. It's been confirmed that there will be an astounding 50 attorneys general (AG) participating in the probe.

A spokeswoman from Marshall's office declined to comment on the decision-making process for Alabama.

Scott Morton, the Yale professor, said most states have laws that mimic federal antitrust laws, but it can be harder for state attorneys general to enforce those laws because they don't usually have in-house antitrust experts.

Paxton leads the probe, he said, which will focus on Google's advertising business.

Leslie Rutledge, a Republican attorney general from Arkansas, described Google as an "online search engine juggernaut", raising her concern that searches for businesses, including doctors, are colored by the way the tech giant's algorithms and advertising systems work.

Big tech companies have long rebuffed attempts by the US federal government to scrutinize or scale back their market power.

The U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are zeroing in on big tech.

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