Antitrust probe of Google widens its focus

Antitrust probe of Google widens its focus
It appears that the torch and pitchfork mentality against Big Tech is about to put Google under more scrutiny than originally thought. CNBC reports that the 50 attorneys general (48 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico) that are investigating the company's advertising business now plan on taking a look at its search and Android operations as well. The probe is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton; a spokesman for Paxton said last month that "At this point, the multi-state 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." 

This investigation, and one being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, seeks to find whether Google has violated any antitrust laws due to the sheer size and scope of its businesses. Because the company's business units dominate in various categories, the firm is often accused of anti-competitive behavior. And sometimes such behavior is discovered. For example, last year the European Union fined Google a record $5 billion for antitrust violations related to the Android operating system. According to the EU, Google allegedly demanded that smartphone manufacturers wanting to license the Google Play services version of Android pre-install Google Search and the Chrome browser on their phones. The company also supposedly paid some manufacturers to pre-install only one search engine on their phones-Google Search. Google not only was fined that large sum, which it is now appealing, it also was forced to promote other search engines and mobile browsers to EU consumers with an Android phone.

Some lawmakers from both parties want Google to break up into smaller companies

"Big Tech," which includes companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, is accused by some politicians of being too big. Some, like presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), are demanding that the government force these giants to break up into smaller companies similar to the way that the Bell System was shattered back in 1982. The president also has gone after Google, but for different reasons. As recently as August, President Donald Trump attacked the company in a series of tweets after watching a fired Google engineer named Kevin Cernekee tell Fox News' Tucker Carlson that Google wants Trump to lose the 2020 election. Cernekee was fired by Google for downloading internal company documents on his own mobile device.

In 2018, Trump was upset when alt-right blog PJ Media claimed that 96% of Google Search results under the topic of "Trump News" came from the "National Left-Wing Media." Later that afternoon, White House economic advisor Lawrence Kudlow announced that the Trump administration was looking into regulating Google Search. Despite the bluster, nothing ever came from it.

As for the attorneys general, they will issue subpoenas known as CIDs to gain the testimony they need to conduct their investigation. AG Paxton has already had Google served with CIDs related to its advertising business and Google says that it will cooperate with government investigations. Back in September, the company's Senior Vice President of Global Affairs, Kent Walker, said that Google has answered similar questions before in the U.S. and overseas. "We have answered many questions on these issues over many years, in the United States as well as overseas, across many aspects of our business, so this is not new for us," he said. "The DOJ has asked us to provide information about these past investigations, and we expect state attorneys general will ask similar questions. We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so. We look forward to showing how we are investing in innovation, providing services that people want, and engaging in robust and fair competition."

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