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Google to face historic antitrust investigation in 50 U.S. states

Google will be subjected to a wide-ranging antitrust investigation into its business practices, high-ranking legal officials in the United States announced on Monday.

A total of 50 attorneys general from across the U.S. are coming together to look into whether Google’s monopoly in businesses like internet search and advertising have harmed American consumers and damaged competition, the Washington Post reports.

The scope could broaden dramatically as the investigation gets underway, according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who pointed out the company “dominates all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet” on Monday.

Related: Huawei Android ban

Some of those AGs announcing the investigation from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court also suggested Google’s handling of customers’ data could also be under consideration as part of the wider investigation.

Ashley Moody, of Florida said: “Google monitors our online behaviour, and captures data on every one of us as we navigate the internet. This investigation will initially focus on capture of that information and whether Google embedded itself on every level of the online market [for] ad sales to monopolize this industry.”

Importantly, Google is not subject to an antitrust lawsuit currently, but the investigation could lead to one in future, the group of AGs said.

The attorneys general are from 48 states in the U.S. as well as the capital Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Only Google’s home state of California and Alabama are yet to sign attorneys general up to be part of the investigation.

Google is yet to comment on the announcement but the investigation is a foreboding sign for the company, which is now facing scrutiny – from top to bottom – that could force changes to the way it does business in the U.S. and bring additional regulatory constraints.

Several high-profile politicians in the United States, such as democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, are already calling for Silicon Valley’s behemoths to be broken up into smaller companies.

European precedents

Back in 2017, Google was fined €2.4 billion following a European antitrust investigation. The European Commission’s seven year investigation found Google had “abused its dominant position by systematically favouring” its own Shopping price comparison service.

As a result of the judgement, Google was forced to “comply with the simple principle of giving equal treatment to rival comparison shopping services and its own service.”

In 2018, a record €4.3 billion fine was sent Google’s way over the way it forced phone manufacturers to pre-install Search, Chrome and Google Play, while restricting the use of rival stores.

This year, Google was hit with a further €1.5 billion antitrust fine for, according to the EU, abusing “its market dominance by imposing a number of restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites which prevented Google’s rivals from placing their search adverts on … websites.”

The investigation in the United States could have similar wide-reaching implications should the company be deemed to be in the wrong by the attorneys general and a full antitrust lawsuit be launched. Jeff Landry, from Louisiana, one of those present on Monday said: “We’re here because there’s an absolutely existential threat to our virtual marketplace.”

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