Google faces big antritrust probe by 50 attorneys general

Investigation underscores fears about how Google benefits from data harvested from the online ecosystem

The backlash against Big Tech moved into a new phase Monday as officials from nearly all US states announced an antitrust investigation into the dominance of internet giant Google. The announcement from 50 attorneys general calls for a probe into whether Google abused its power in the online ecosystem at the expense of rivals or consumers.

The move, described as a preliminary probe of Google's actions in online advertising, highlights the growing complaints about Big Tech dominance and follows a separate investigation into Facebook announced last week by a coalition of US states.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the probe underscores fears about how Google benefits from data harvested from the online ecosystem.

"What we've all learned is that while many consumers believe the internet is free… the internet is not free," Paxton told a news conference in front of the US Supreme Court.

"There is nothing wrong with a business becoming the biggest game in town if it does so through free market competition, but we have seen evidence that Google's business practices may have undermined consumer choice, stifled innovation, violated users' privacy and put Google in control of the flow and dissemination of online information."

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who joined the news conference, said: "The question for us is whether Google has strayed from its founding principles to not do evil."

Pennsylvania's Josh Shapiro added: "We're looking into whether Google's business practices have undermined free market competition - and hurt consumers."

The probe is being backed by 48 states - with only California and Alabama absent - and joined by Puerto Rico and the federal District of Columbia, and officials stopped short of calling for any specific remedies such as a breakup - which some Google critics have called for.

"It is an investigation to determine the facts," Paxton said. "Right now it is on advertising but the facts will lead where the facts will lead.

Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president of global affairs, said in a blog post Friday that the company would cooperate with regulators while stressing that its services "help people, create more choice, and support thousands of jobs and small businesses across the United States."

According to research firm eMarketer, Google leads the US digital ad market with a 37.2% share worth some $48bn this year and is expected to control 20% of all US ad spending, online and offline combined.

Google is also by far the largest online search engine and captures nearly 75% of search-related online ads in the US, according to eMarketer.

The latest antitrust actions come against a backdrop of declining public trust in big online firms, and fines levied against Facebook and Google over privacy violations.

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