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50 Attorneys General Announce Investigation of Google’s Business Practices

Attorneys general from 48 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico announced Monday their plans to investigate Google’s business practices and its dominance in the telecommunications and search engine industries. 

(CN) – Attorneys general from 48 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico announced Monday their plans to investigate Google’s business practices and its dominance in the telecommunications and search engine industries. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said his state is leading the coalition, which includes attorneys general from every state except for California and Alabama. Paxton and other attorneys general made the announcement at a press conference outside the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“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,” Paxton said.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, who held a separate press conference in Hartford, noted that the states had not yet filed a lawsuit against Google. 

“It is not illegal in and of itself to be a monopoly. It is not illegal in and of itself to exercise such huge market power. It is illegal to abuse that power,” Tong said. 

Tech companies like Google have come under increasing political and legal fire recently, with lawmakers and regulators on both sides of the political aisle launching or threatening investigations into their practices.

Google took the news in stride. 

Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president of global affairs, said in a statement that “governments should have oversight to ensure that all successful companies, including ours, are complying with the law.”

“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,” Walker said. “The [Department of Justice] 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.” 

Tong said that states often play a key role in working to build evidence and public support for major investigations that can lead to changes in the marketplace. 

Connecticut Assistant Attorney General Michael Cole said that is what happened with Microsoft in the 1990s after 20 states joined the Department of Justice in an antitrust case. That case started as a multi-state investigation similar to the one against Google announced today.

Tong said the antitrust case against Microsoft paved the way for companies such as Google to get started. 

“There were allegations that Microsoft was illegally tying its hardware to its software and that if you wanted to buy a machine that ran Windows that you had to buy all of the software that came with that machine,” Tong said. 

He said “there would not be a Google today,” without the Microsoft investigation, litigation and settlement.

He added that the investigation is about “competition and it’s about opening up the technology marketplace.”

“Google’s control over nearly every aspect of our lives has placed the company at the center of our digital economy. But it doesn’t take a search engine to understand that unchecked corporate power shouldn’t eclipse consumers’ rights,” New York Attorney General Leticia James said.

James is also leading an eight state investigation of Facebook. 

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovish said the states are concerned that Google’s “dominance in the market is has been achieved not simply on the merits of its products,” but through anti-competitive business practices. 

Arizona is part of an executive committee of states that will work in cooperation with federal authorities to assess competitive conditions for online services and ensure that Americans have access to open digital markets. The other states on the executive committee are Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina and Texas.

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