Google Targeted By 50 U.S. AGs In Potential Sweeping Antitrust Investigation

Ted Johnson

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Attorneys general from 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico appeared in front of the Supreme Court on Monday to unveil a major antitrust investigation of Google, the latest scrutiny in Washington facing the tech giant.

The investigation, which involves top state legal officials from both parties, initially will focus on advertising and search, but the state officials said that the probe could grow to encompass other areas including video, where Google’s YouTube is a dominant player in user-generated uploading sites.

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Hollywood studios largely have been watching from the sidelines as tech platforms face increasing pressure from lawmakers over a host of issues, including their collection of data and the way that they police their platforms for inflammatory content. Showbiz lobbyists long have pressed Google to do more to fight piracy, even as the company forges content partnerships with industry players.

An MPAA spokesman declined comment on the latest investigation, but its chairman, Charles Rivkin, previously has seized on the increased scrutiny of Facebook and Google in calling for greater “platform accountability.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the investigation, said the coalition already has issued civil investigative demands for information from Google.

“This is a company that dominates all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet,” Paxton said.

He said that the AGs “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.”

Nevertheless, he and other state officials emphasized that the investigation is preliminary and that no lawsuit has been filed.

The attorneys general of Alabama and California, where Google is based, did not join the investigation.

The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission also are looking into the business practices of Google and other major platforms. On Friday, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that she and officials from other states are investigating Facebook.

Kent Walker, Google’s AVP Public Affairs, said in a statement; “We have answered many questions on these issues over many years, in the United States as well as overseas, across many aspects of our business, so this is not new for us. The DOJ has asked us to provide information about these past investigations, and we expect state attorneys general will as similar questions. We have always worked constructively with regulators and will continue to do so.”

Google has emphasized how it has innovated to the benefit of consumers, often for free. That is a significant argument, as antitrust scrutiny in the U.S. focuses on a company’s impact on consumer welfare.

The company faced an antitrust investigation by the FTC during the Obama administration, but the agency did not issue major penalties against the company.

Other major industry groups have urged lawmakers to investigate Google for an array of business practices. In July, the Artists Rights Alliance, which includes musicians and songwriters, complained that Google and YouTube were using their “scale and their unique role as the ‘indispensable platform’ to grossly underpay for music.” The group includes Roseanne Cash, John McCrea and Tift Merritt.

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