September 12, 2019
A bipartisan group of attorneys general representing 48 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, led by Ken Paxton (R-Texas), announced an investigation of Google, initially focusing on the tech behemoth’s practices in online advertising. “But the facts will lead where the facts lead,” said Paxton, who made the announcement from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. “We don’t know all the answers,” he added. The states just subpoenaed Google for information on its advertising business practices.
The Wall Street Journal reports that attorney general Leslie Rutledge (R-Arkansas) stated that, “most Americans think it’s free to Google something … but it comes at a cost: the cost of the freedom to choose the best products from the best companies.”
Although most of the attorneys general present at the announcement were Republican, they emphasized the effort’s bipartisan nature. “This is an unusual setting right here,” said attorney general Karl Racine (D-District of Columbia). “I’m next to friends of mine whom I vehemently disagree with on issues like immigration, reproductive rights, gun rights and other issues. But we are acting as one today.” Alabama and California’s attorneys general did not join the probe.
Members of the group focused on different concerns, which, says WSJ, “could prove a challenge in sharpening the states’ focus if they decide to bring a case.” Although the European Union has fined Google, the FTC “famously decided against suing Google in 2013.”
The New York Times reports that, “the states can play a key role, often in concert with federal regulators and Congress, in building evidence and public support for major investigations,” pointing to the “landmark antitrust case against Microsoft, when 20 states joined the Justice Department in suing the software giant in 1998.”
“This kind of high-profile announcement creates expectations, and it does put pressure on the federal agencies to follow through — to seriously investigate these companies,” said Howard University law professor Andrew Gavil. “And by making it bipartisan, they are wisely laying the groundwork for what could be a lengthy and far-reaching investigation.”
Months ago, “the states formed a multistate unit called the Tech Industry Working Group … [and] steadily built up support, both getting bipartisan backing and enough states to marshal the legal resources to pursue in-depth investigations and potentially an antitrust suit.” “Obviously, we’re just beginning, but this is going to be a thorough investigation,” said attorney general Phil Weiser (D-Colorado). “I’m not worried about having the legal and intellectual firepower for these investigations.”