Google is officially the focus of a sweeping antitrust investigation.
Attorneys general for 50 US states and territories on Monday announced a wide-ranging review into Google, to explore whether it threatens competition, consumers, and internet growth. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, while out front of the Supreme Court, described Google as dominating "all aspects of advertising and searching" on the web.
Keep in mind, six years ago, the FTC closed its investigation into search and advertising and chose not to break up Google. The company has faced much scrutiny in recent years, however, even racking up $9 billion in competition-related fines in Europe in the past three years.
Both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are also currently investigating whether Big Tech - as a whole - has hurt consumers and stifled competition in the US. However, likely due to federal inaction thus far, US state watchdogs are now initiating their own antitrust investigations into Google, specifically probing whether it undermines rivals and harm consumers.
To be clear, Google is only under investigation at this point, and no lawsuit has been brought forth. Paxton said the initial focus is on online advertising, but attorneys general from some US states, including Florida, Louisiana, and Nebraska, expressed their concerns on other issues, like the way Google ranks search results and if it really protects users' personal information.
“When there is no longer a free market or competition, this increases prices, even when something is marketed as free, and harms consumers,” said Florida state attorney general Ashley Moody, a Republican. “Is something really free if we are increasingly giving over our privacy information? Is something really free if online ad prices go up based on one company’s control?"
When reached for comment, a Google spokesperson shared this blog post from Friday, when it admitted it had received requests for information from the Department of Justice and said it expects state attorneys general to ask more questions. “We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so,” Google said in the post.
How will this affect you?
Regulatory action on big tech companies on a federal level has had little impact on consumers, so far. In the past, it usually resulted in fines from the FTC. But antitrust is very different from privacy and consumer protection, which is something both Google and Facebook have been fined over in the past. Antitrust could impact a company's business models. In the long run, that would affect you.
For instance, if either the state or federal investigations determine that Google has exhibited anti-competitive behavior, it could be forced to change to make it easier for rivals to compete, like by adjusting its algorithims. It might even be compelled to spin-off businesses like YouTube.