Missouri attorney general investigating Google

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Josh Hawley

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri's attorney general announced Monday his office is investigating Google for potential violations of the state's consumer-protection and antitrust laws.

Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, who also is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Claire McCaskill's seat in 2018, told reporters he issued an "investigative subpoena" to the tech giant to gather information. Asked whether his Senate bid influenced his decision to investigate, he said the goal is to "protect the people of Missouri."

Hawley's office is checking into what Google does with the user information it collects and allegations it inappropriately scrapes information from competitors' websites. It's also looking into allegations the company manipulates search results to favor its own websites over competitors', which has been the subject of recent scrutiny in Europe.

Google spokesman Patrick Lenihan said in a statement the company has 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," Lenihan said.

The Missouri investigation comes on the heels of a $2.7 billion antitrust fine issued to the tech giant by the European Union in June for unfairly featuring its own shopping services in its influential search results.

Federal regulators in the U.S. also have investigated the company over antitrust claims, but Google settled with the Federal Trade Commission in 2013 without making any major concessions on how the company runs its internet search engine. Federal regulators didn't find any reasons to impose radical changes.

Hawley's office argues federal regulators were wrong not to sue Google, and that inaction left an opening for a potential state suit. Hawley said the Federal Trade Commission under former President Barack Obama "did not take any enforcement action against Google, did not press this forward and has essentially given them a free pass."

Hawley's office said Missouri's strong consumer-protection laws could help with a potential lawsuit over user data.

Associated Press writer Michael Liedtke contributed to this report from San Francisco.

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