Friday , October 30 2020

Google’s US antitrust worries could be entering a more serious phase

At least seven state attorneys general are meeting with US Justice Department attorneys next week in what could be the first step toward the two groups working together to investigate Google, The Wall Street Journal is reporting. The move follows last year’s news that 50 state attorneys general are conducting an antitrust investigation to Google, while the Justice Department has its own broad antitrust review that it’s conducting of the country’s big tech companies. Google’s dominance in online advertising and search, as well as its behavior around Android, are thought to be under scrutiny.

The scheduled meeting could pave the way for state and federal authorities to share information they’ve gathered as parts of their investigations, which hasn’t happened until now, according to the WSJ’s sources. It’s also an important sign of the momentum that’s building behind regulatory pushback against Big Tech, according to comments made by one law professor to CNBC last year. Back in the late ‘90s, a similar partnership emerged to sue Microsoft, and the resulting settlement led to significant changes in the industry. In particular, it lifted barriers to third-party browsers that have since been credited with allowing for the rise of Chrome.

The state-level investigation into Google was announced in September of last year, and it reportedly expanded to include the company’s search, ads, and Android businesses in November. The 50-strong group of attorneys general is being led by Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton from Texas. When it was first announced, just two state attorneys general stayed out of the investigation: California and Alabama.

Google acknowledged its involvement in the federal probe in September when it was asked to provide documents by the Justice Department. In response, the company said that it would work constructively with regulators, much as it had in the past. “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 company wrote in a blog post.

The investigation is part of a broad pushback against Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, which are all in the US government’s crosshairs for some combination of antitrust, privacy, or discrimination violations. As of September 2019, this included as many as 16 investigations and inquiries into Big Tech across state, federal, and congressional levels, according to this tracker from The New York Times.

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