Antitrust Law Daily Google faces 50-state AG antitrust probe, focusing on online advertising market
Monday, September 9, 2019

Google faces 50-state AG antitrust probe, focusing on online advertising market

By Jody Coultas, J.D.

State attorneys general launch a multistate investigation into whether the tech giants engaged in anticompetitive behavior.

In a press conference on the steps on the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. today, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that the attorneys general of all 50 states have joined together to investigate potential antitrust violations by Alphabet, Inc.’s Google. The investigation will focus on Google’s control of online advertising markets and search traffic that may have harmed consumers. Facebook is facing a similar inquiry by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general led by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

"Now, more than ever, information is power, and the most important source of information in Americans’ day-to-day lives is the internet. When most Americans think of the internet, they no doubt think of Google," said Paxton in a prepared statement. "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," Paxton continued.

Paxton also noted that previous investigations of Google uncovered violations ranging from advertising illegal drugs in the United States to now three antitrust actions brought by the European Commission. However, those investigations have not fully addressed the source of Google’s sustained market power and the ability to engage in business practices intended to protect and maintain that power.

Parallel investigations. The conduct of tech companies, like Google and Facebook, has grabbed the attention of state and federal authorities recently.Last week, the attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia announced an investigation into Facebook, Inc.’s dominance in the industry and any anticompetitive conduct that may stem from that dominance.

Also last week, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights announced that it will hold a hearing on September 24 to address concerns related to the acquisition by digital platforms of nascent or potential competitors. The hearing will explore issues relating to competition in technology markets and the antitrust agencies’ efforts to root out anticompetitive conduct. This hearing will follow the "Oversight of the Enforcement of the Antitrust Laws" hearing on September 17, at which FTC Chairman Joseph Simons and Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division will address the committee.

In July, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division announced that it was reviewing whether major online platforms have achieved market power and, if so, whether they are "engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers."

Federal lawmaker’s comment on investigation. "I was proud to launch the first antitrust and privacy investigation of Big Tech by an attorney general two years ago. I’m heartened to see a new group of attorneys general with the courage to stand up to these powerful companies and fight for citizens. Big Tech companies should be held accountable if they are violating our privacy or harming our children or killing innovation," said Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.).

Companies: Alphabet, Inc.; Facebook, Inc.; Google, LLC

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