Amid growing scrutiny of large technology companies by many levels of the U.S. government, a large group of state attorney generals from across the United States have opened an antitrust probe relating to Google and its business practices.
The probe will focus specifically on whether the company’s effective control over markets relating to Internet advertising and online searches have led it to practice what they called “uncompetitive behavior” that is not in the best interest of consumers.
The probe has already requested that Google provide them with certain documents that relate to their advertising business. At the same time, though, many involved in the investigation have called it “preliminary.” They have also indicated that the probe will eventually expand to cover other important issues related to the company, such as data privacy.
One of the attorney generals in the probe categorized Google’s search engine as a “juggernaut.” He further said that sometimes a no-cost search for the consumer comes with an inability to choose what may be the best product for them. He added that, because Google has become so big that it has become a verb, it may seem that taking it on is like “David taking on Goliath,” but he said that he is proud to do so.
Another state attorney general involved in the probe said that the goal of their investigation was actually to help “the tech ecosystem,” by providing a level playing field for all participants in the industry.
A couple of states declined to participate in the probe. The attorney general for one of them would only say that they are committed to combatting anti-competitive behavior of companies and did not want to comment on the probe because of the fear that such comments could damage it.
Technology companies were not always considered pariahs by the U.S. government. At one time, many members of the government praised such companies for their ability to greatly drive economic growth. But recently, and in an increasing manner, many in the government have begun to criticize large tech companies, accusing them of abusing their power and blaming them for apparent lapses in judgment that have threatened the privacy of a large number of technology users.
Among those in government now criticizing Google and others, one of the loudest voices has been U.S. President Donald J. Trump. He has said that Google and many large social media companies have been actively suppressing the voices of conservatives on their platform, though he has not provided specific evidence of such actions.
Some in government have accused Google of manipulating its search engine to hurt rival companies. They have also complained that is engaging in anti-competitive in relation to how it operates its online advertisement business.
This is not the first time that the U.S. government has investigated Google. In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) probed the company in regards to its search engine, but it found that it did not manipulate search results to the detriment of its rivals. Though the agency’s investigation did not completely exonerate the company. It forced them to stop employing what is known as “scraping,” which is the practice of using the web content of other businesses — such as user reviews — without their consent.
Some people have applauded the announcement of the probe. This includes Senator Josh Hawley, who once probed Google when he was a state attorney general. He called the announcement “a very big day” for those who would like to see the country’s antitrust laws properly enforced.
But certain experienced antitrust lawyers are skeptical of the probe’s effectiveness. They believe that monopolization law in the United States is very complicated to navigate through, and that enforcing it has not been done successfully in a long time.
The probe by the group of state attorney generals is not the only government investigation of Google currently under way in relation to alleged antitrust violations. Both the U.S. Justice Department and the FTC are investigating it and other large technology companies for antitrust violations as well.
Alphabet, which is the holding company that owns Google, has indicated that the Justice Department recently contacted them and asked for both documents and other forms of information relating to their antitrust investigation. It further indicated that was cooperating with the probe and that it would cooperate as well with the probe that was launched by the states.
But Google refused to comment further about the probe. The price of its shares dropped in the wake of the probe’s announcement, but only by 0.6%.
In spite of the fact that state attorney generals generally have fewer resources at their disposal in comparison to federal agencies, they have been known to take on large companies. Another large group of them have recently accused large pharmaceutical companies of anti-competitive practices relating to the pricing of generic drugs.