A bipartisan collection of 50 attorneys general from states and U.S. territories united Monday in Washington to announce an investigation into Google, exploring whether the internet search giant violated state and federal antitrust laws as it moved to dominate the online advertising market.
It is the second Big Tech company to face an antitrust investigation this month. Another group of states is looking into Facebook’s practices. The group of top legal cops said they will review Google’s advertising markets and search capabilities to determine whether business practices have led to anti-competitive behavior, harmed consumers and drove rivals out of business.
They said some Google search queries have yielded responses to businesses or advertisers who pay for their links to show up in specific positions. “As a new mom, when my daughter is sick and I search online for advice or doctors, I want the best advice from the best doctors — not the doctor, not the clinic who can spend the most on advertising,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Most Americans think it’s free to ‘Google‘ something, but it comes at a cost.”
European countries already are investigating the market power of Google, Facebook and other U.S.-based tech giants. In this decade alone, the European Union has launched three antitrust cases against Google and levied over $8.1 billion in fines against two of the company’s services: Google Shopping and Android.
The pressure has been building in the U.S. on tech companies as well. Reuters has reported that the Federal Trade Commission is looking into antitrust allegations against Apple, Amazon and Facebook in addition to Google. Facebook was hit by a state investigation, led by New York’s attorney general, this month over its dominance of social media.
The red and blue states came together Monday for the latest legal offensive, telling reporters at the Supreme Court that small businesses could be locked out by the monopolistic powers of Google’s dominance. Though they are not filing a lawsuit against the company just yet, they have vowed to follow the facts where they lead and communicate weekly about where the investigation stands.
“There is nothing wrong with a business becoming the biggest game in town if it does so through free market competition, but we have seen evidence that Google’s business practices may have undermined consumer choice, stifled innovation, violated users’ privacy and put Google in control of the flow and dissemination of online information. We intend to closely follow the facts we discover in this case and proceed as necessary,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the coalition.
“While many consumers believe the internet is free … the internet is not free. This is a company that dominates all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet,” Mr. Paxton said at the press briefing.