Google targeted in new investigation from 50 attorneys-general

Attorneys-general from 50 US states and territories on Monday launched an investigation into Google’s dominance in both search and advertising.

Ken Paxton, the attorney-general from Texas, led the group of legal officials from both major political parties in announcing the probe, the latest in a series of moves to challenge the dominance of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies.

Addressing reporters from the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, Mr Paxton said: “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.”

The investigation involves every US state except for California and Alabama as well as Washington DC and Puerto Rico. Neither California nor Alabama immediately responded to a request to comment.

Eight of the attorneys-general who are investigating Google have also launched a separate antitrust inquiry into Facebook, which will be led by Letitia James of New York.

Ms James announced on Friday the group was looking at “whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising”.

Meanwhile, federal officials are also looking into whether large technology companies have become too powerful.

Google is under investigation by the Department of Justice, which last week demanded the company turn over records related to previous antitrust investigations. Google was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in 2013, but the commission settled without taking major action against the company.

While the justice department looks into Google, Facebook said earlier this year it is under investigation by the FTC.

Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice-president of global affairs, said in a blog post on Friday: “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 ask similar questions. We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so.”

The initial focus of the state-level probe will be its power over search and online advertising, although Mr Paxton said he would follow other paths of investigation if they arose. “The facts will lead where the facts will lead,” he said.

Other attorneys-general mentioned other aspects they wanted to look into, including how the internet search company ranks its results and user privacy.

Tim Cornell, the head of US antitrust at the law firm Clifford Chance, said: “The state AGs and the federal agencies often work in parallel, and this will certainly raise the pressure on the platforms.”