Google faces antitrust probe in US over its advertising practices

WASHINGTON • A group of states in the US has opened a nationwide investigation into whether Google's advertising practices violate antitrust laws, targeting the heart of the search giant's business.

Attorneys-general from 48 states, led by Mr Ken Paxton of Texas, and from the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico announced the probe on Monday on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, citing concerns that the company is raising costs for advertisers and questioning whether consumers are getting the best information from search results.

"This is a company that dominates all aspects of advertising on the Internet and searching on the Internet," Mr Paxton said.

The probe is the latest sign of the rapidly expanding antitrust investigations confronting Google along with other giant US tech firms.

The sheer size of the investigating group, which includes all states except California and Alabama, poses a threat to Google. The states have a track record of taking on major companies such as cigarette makers and banks over harms to consumers and wresting fines that can amount to billions of dollars.

The announcement by the states comes days after New York State Attorney-General Letitia James announced she is leading a separate coalition of states in a wide-ranging investigation of Facebook.

The Google probe focuses on digital advertising, the main way the search giant and its parent Alphabet make money. The company reported US$116.3 billion (S$160 billion) in ad revenue last year, which was 85 per cent of overall sales.

 
 
 

Mr Paxton said the group has issued a civil investigative demand to Google to gather information about its advertising practices.

The attorneys-general said Google search results are skewed towards its own products and those of advertisers rather than the best information. "When my daughter is sick and I search online for advice or doctors, I want the best advice from the best doctors not the ones - not the doctor and not the clinic - who can spend the most on advertising," said Arkansas Attorney-General Leslie Rutledge.

Google declined to comment beyond a Friday blog post by its chief lawyer, Mr Kent Walker, who said it planned to work constructively with regulators.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2019, with the headline 'Google faces antitrust probe in US over its advertising practices'. Print Edition | Subscribe