On Monday, 50 attorneys general from US states and territories signed onto an antitrust investigation into Google, placing even more pressure on the major tech firms that are already facing intense scrutiny over their market dominance from the government.
The probe, led by Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton from Texas, will focus primarily on Google’s advertising and search businesses. But in remarks given Monday, the attorneys general suggested that they may expand the investigation later.
California and Alabama are the only two state attorneys general staying out of the probe.
At Monday’s press conference in front of the Supreme Court, Paxton said that Google “dominates all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet,” The Washington Post reported.
“We applaud the 50 state attorneys general for taking this unprecedented stand against Big Tech by uniting to investigate Google’s destruction of competition in search and advertising,” the Open Markets Institute said in a statement. “We haven’t seen a major monopolization case against a tech giant since Microsoft was sued in 1998. Today’s announcement marks the start of a new era.”
Running parallel to the states’ investigation, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission are also probing the companies out of concerns they may be stifling competition in the industry. In its last quarterly earnings, Facebook disclosed that the FTC had opened an antitrust investigation into the company in June. The Justice Department announced its own broad antitrust review opened into the entirety of the tech sector last July as well.
At a conference in August, the DOJ’s antitrust head Makan Delrahim told reporters that the Department was working alongside the state attorneys general to investigate possible antitrust violations in the tech sectors.
Separately, New York’s Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, announced a similar investigation last Friday into whether Facebook “endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.” Her coalition included attorneys general from Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia.
“Even the largest social media platform in the world must follow the law and respect consumers,” James said last week. “I am proud to be leading a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in investigating whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Missouri’s former state attorney general, was one of the first to open an antitrust investigation into Google back in 2017. Hawley has carried over that same tech skepticism into the halls of Congress where he has sponsored a number of bills aimed at regulating the industry. He has also taken the helm of the Republican party’s claims that large tech platforms censor conservative speech, an unsubstantiated theory.
“I’m really, really pleased by this news that so many states are going to stand together and essentially join Missouri in its efforts, now two years old, to investigate Google,” Hawley told Bloomberg Sunday.