Missouri AG launches Google antitrust probe

Missouri's top law enforcement official is also investigating whether the internet giant violated the state's principal consumer protection statute.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced on Monday that he's launching an investigation into Google's business practices, citing concerns the internet giant may be violating the state's principal consumer-protection statute or its antitrust laws.

"There is strong reason to believe that Google has not been acting with the best interest of Missourians in mind," Hawley said in a statement.

Specifically, Hawley said in a press conference Monday that his investigation spans three areas: First, Hawley cited the "gathering of private, personal information from consumers perhaps without consumers' full knowledge" and without giving consumers the ability to opt out of such collection. Second, he listed the alleged "misappropriation of competitors' information for Google's own profit."

Lastly, Hawley's office is investigating whether Google has manipulated search results to favor websites owned by Google and to demote websites that compete with Google. Hawley noted that Google was fined $2.7 billion earlier this year by the European Union for for abusing its market dominance as a search engine to promote its own comparison shopping service.

Hawley said he is "concerned they are engaging in a similar parttern here in the United States."

As Missouri's top law enforcement official, Hawley has issued Google an investigative subpoena, requiring the company to hand over documents and information related to his investigation. He stressed that compliance is not optional.

Google Spokesperson Patrick Lenihan told ZDNet the company has not yet received the subpoena. However, he added, "we have strong privacy protections in place for our users and continue to operate in a highly competitive and dynamic environment."

Hawley -- a Republican who is running for the GOP Senate nomination to challenge sitting Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2018 -- slammed the Obama-era Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for being too easy on Google.

He noted that Google entered into an agreement with the FTC in 2012 -- in which it promised not to engage in misappropriation of competitors' websites data. This past September, Yelp complained to the FTC that Google was violating that agreement.

"Frankly, the FTC -- the Obama-era FTC -- did not take any enforcement actions against Google... and has essentially given them a free pass," he said. "We should not just accept the word of these corporate giants that they have our best interests at heart."

Hawley said that to his knowledge, no other states have opened comparable investigations into Google. However, lawmakers in the past year have become increasingly skeptical of and at times antagonistic toward the tech industry. While Republicans are typically more "pro business," the GOP has become more populist under President Donald Trump's leadership.

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