Josh Hawley, Missouri Attorney General, has apparently started an investigation into whether or not Google has violated Missouri consumer protection or antitrust laws.
A recent press release indicates the Missouri Attorney General’s office is examining data collection, “misappropriation” of third-party content and promotion of “websites owned by Google” which appears to be detrimental to third-party competitors:
The business ethics in question are Google’s collection, use, and information disclosure of Google users and their online activities; Google’s alleged misappropriation of online content from the websites of its competitors; and Google’s alleged manipulation of search results to preference websites owned by Google and to demote websites that compete with Google.
Hawley is a Republican and a candidate for US Senate next year. In this political climate, its hard not to see everything through the lens of cynicism and political calculation. But while Hawley may be seeking publicity and populist credibility from the investigation, he’s not the only Attorney General looking at Google and antitrust issues.
In late January 2016, Attorneys General from Utah and Washington, DC, urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to reopen an antitrust investigation against Google on the question of the company unfairly promoting its own content in search results. This is the issue which triggered the record $2.7 billion fine in Europe in June of this year.
Google settled with the FTC in 2013. At the time, the FTC said there was insufficient evidence under the law to support any sort of complaint against the company on the grounds of “search bias.”
Google is currently appealing the European Commission decision. There are two other antitrust cases pending in Europe against Google (focused on AdSense and Google Play), which could equally result in large fines.