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Nearly Every State Is Launching An Antitrust Investigation Of Google

Attorneys general from 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, have announced their plan to launch an antitrust investigation focused on Google, which they referred to as an "online search juggernaut."

Posted on September 9, 2019, at 2:17 p.m. ET

Denis Charlet / AFP / Getty Images

Today, attorneys general from 48 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico announced an antitrust investigation focused on Google, looking at whether the search giant stifled competition and restricted access to its platforms from other companies. The bipartisan group, led by Ken Paxton, the Republican attorney general of Texas, referred to Google as an "online search juggernaut."

State regulators from California โ€” where Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is based โ€” and Alabama did not join the probe.

"When my daughter is sick and I search online for advice, I want the best advice from the best doctors, not the ones who can spend the most on advertising," the Republican attorney general of Arkansas, Leslie Rutledge, said during a press conference held on the steps of the Supreme Court.

In a blog post published Friday, Google's senior vice president of global affairs, Kent Walker, wrote, "We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so."

States have the ability to levy fines or receive damages from companies found to be engaging in anticompetitive practices but, according to Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, the most important aspect of the investigation is that it will reveal how exactly Google works.

"The trial is the remedy. Exposing the deals and how the companies use customer data, etc, will have a salutary effect," Stoller told BuzzFeed News.

This year, Google will account for 31.1% of worldwide digital ad spending, the largest market share of any company, according to an eMarketer estimate. Jason Fried, the CEO of the productivity software Basecamp, recently complained that the company had to pay Google to be the first result on searches for its own name, which is trademarked.

Tech giants โ€” including Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google โ€” are facing increasing scrutiny from federal regulators and Congress. In March, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts published a plan to break up tech platforms with annual global revenue of $25 billion or more. (Google reported $136.8 billion in revenue in 2018, and 90% of the company's earnings come from advertising.)

"Amazon Marketplace and Basics, and Googleโ€™s ad exchange and businesses on the exchange would be split apart. Google Search would have to be spun off as well," according to the plan.

In 2017, Josh Hawley, then the Republican attorney general of Missouri and now a United States senator, launched the first state antitrust investigation following a European Union commission's decision to levy a record $2.7 billion antitrust fine against Google for giving preferential treatment to its own online shopping service over others.

Message to state AGs taking on new investigation of Big Tech from someone who launched the first investigation: The companies are lawyering up, trying to find ways to divide you, and looking for every chance to stonewall. Donโ€™t let them. And donโ€™t back down.

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