50 Attorneys General Expand Google Antitrust Probe

On November 14, the 50 attorneys-general investigation into Google over possible antitrust violations is set to expand and examine Google’s Android and search businesses in addition to the initial investigation over its advertising practices. Google responded to the initial probe in a blog post.

The investigation, comprising 48 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Google will receive subpoenas for the investigation.

A spokesperson for AG Paxton referred to an October comment which read, “At this point, the multistate investigation is focused solely on online advertising; however, as always, the facts we discover as the investigation progresses will determine where the investigation ultimately leads.”

The investigation will look into Google’s search and Android business. States are able to more aggressively investigate antitrust matters because they are not under the same constraints as the federal government.

Search is a large part of Google’s business, especially as it is used for advertising revenue and data collection. Critics argued Google uses its dominant search engine to promote its own products and services. Google’s Android mobile operating system requires device makers to pre-install Google’s app store and other apps, such as Gmail, Google Maps, and Chrome, which is advantageous for Google, while hindering competition.  

The AGs issued the subpoena (CID) in an effort to uncover information pertinent to the probe. CNBC reported that the AGs “will use their CID requests to seek materials like emails and strategy documents to support that view, while looking for evidence of clear anti-competitive behavior. The requests can be a means of filling in holes in evidence, or a tactic to build up pressure on a company in hopes of forcing a settlement. ..Sometimes, investigations and requests can dig up incriminating material. The prior FTC investigation into Google’s search practices found evidence it skewed results to favor its own products, according to documents previously inadvertently given to The Wall Street Journal in 2015.”

Google has pushed back against the Texas AG’s probe, arguing that the state hired consultants for the probe that are competitors to its business, creating a conflict of interest and risk of disclosure of confidential information. 

In 2013, Google was investigated by the FTC for antitrust violations, but there was no resulting action. Additionally, Google was investigated by the European Commission for its business practices and fined $5 billion (€4.34 billion) for combining its search engine and Chrome web browser apps on Android.