Today, 50 attorneys general from states and US territories announced their plan to launch an antitrust investigation focused on Google, looking at whether the search giant worked to stifle competition and restrict access to its platforms from other companies. The bipartisan group, led by Ken Paxton, the Republican attorney general of Texas, referred to Google as an “online search juggernaut,” on the steps of the Supreme Court.
State regulators from California, where Google is based, and Alabama did not join the probe.
In a blog post published on Friday, Google senior vice president of global affairs Kent Walker wrote, “We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so.”
States have the ability to levy fines or receive damages from companies found to be engaging in anticompetitive practices but, according to Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, the most important aspect of the investigation is that it will reveal how exactly Google works. “The trial is the remedy. Exposing the deals and how the companies use customer data, etc, will have a salutary effect,” Stoller told BuzzFeed News.
This year, Google will account for 31.1% of worldwide digital ad spending, the largest market share of any company, according to an eMarketer estimate. Jason Fried, the CEO of the productivity software Basecamp, recently complained that the company had to pay Google to be the first result on searches for its own name, which is trademarked.
Tech giants — including Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google — are facing increasing scrutiny from federal regulators and Congress. In March, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren published a plan to break up tech platforms with annual global revenue of $25 billion or more (Google reported $136.8 billion in 2018). “Amazon Marketplace and Basics, and Google’s ad exchange and businesses on the exchange would be split apart. Google Search would have to be spun off as well,” according to the plan.
In 2017, the Republican Attorney General of Missouri Josh Hawley, now a United States Senator, launched the first state antitrust investigation, following a European Union commission’s decision to levy a record $2.7 billion anti-trust fine against the company for giving preferential treatment to its own online shopping service over others.