Missouri’s attorney general said his office will investigate whether Alphabet Inc.’s Google violated the state’s consumer protection and antitrust laws.
Josh Hawley, a Republican seeking to unseat Democratic US Senator Claire McCaskill in next year’s elections, announced at a press conference that he has issued an investigative subpoena to Google, Reuters reports.
Google said it had not yet received the subpoena.
“However, we have strong privacy protections in place for our users and continue to operate in a highly competitive and dynamic environment,” spokesperson Andrea Faville said in a statement.
Google has come under growing scrutiny globally as it has become a top provider of online search, mobile software and advertising technology. But formal investigations have reached varying results in the last seven years.
Attorney generals of 37 states reached a US$7 million settlement in 2013 over Google’s unauthorized collection of Wi-Fi data through its Street View digital-mapping cars. A Federal Trade Commission inquiry also prompted Google that year to agree to provide advertisers and patent licensees more flexible terms.
The FTC, though, did not bring the stronger antitrust charges that Google rivals such as Microsoft Corp and Yelp Inc sought. States including Ohio, Mississippi and Texas saw inquiries falter without substantive consequences.
Missouri’s Hawley said the FTC’s inaction created an opening.
“We are going to act to hold corporate giants accountable … for the good of the people of Missouri,” Hawley said.
Asked at the press conference whether his Senate candidacy played a role in opening the Google inquiry, Hawley said he acted upon his oath of office and desire “to get to the truth”.
He pointed to the European Union fining Google US$2.7 billion in June for unfairly favoring links to its own shopping service over those from other e-commerce websites.
Hawley said he was moved to act because of concern that Google is engaging in similar behavior domestically. Google is appealing the EU fine.
The other issue cited by Hawley may be tied to complaints from Yelp. The business reviews’ website wrote the FTC and the attorney generals of all 50 states in September that Google has copied images from its service without permission in violation of a commitment made to the US antitrust regulator.
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