Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes joins multistate antitrust probe into Google’s business practices

Washington • Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes joined 49 of his colleagues across the country to launch an investigation of Google for possible antitrust violations in its dominance of the online world that could be snuffing out smaller competitors and cornering the market on advertising dollars.

“There’s no question that Google is the dominant player when it comes to internet searches with nearly 90 percent of the [market’s] share,” Reyes, a Republican, said Monday in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. “And there’s nothing wrong with being the dominant player if it’s done fairly. That’s what our investigation intends to uncover and reveal — whether Google is playing by the rules and acting fairly.”

The massive bipartisan investigation, which includes 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, will look at Google’s business practices to see if it violates state or federal antitrust laws, specifically looking at whether its dominance of online advertising and searches harms consumers.

“There's a fine line sometimes between aggressive business practices and illegal ones.” Reyes said Monday. “Usually the line is very clear. And again our investigation will determine whether Google has crossed that line.”

The multistate probe could also touch on how Google ranks searches and how it protects users' personal information.

The investigation — a fairly unprecedented move that brings together, in some cases, ideologically opposed forces — comes as big tech companies face increased scrutiny from states and the federal government over their control of the internet and the potential to block upstarts and innovation.

“Many consumers believe that the internet is free. Certainly we know from Google’s profits of $117 billion that it is not free,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who is leading the investigation with D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, a Democrat. “And this is a company that dominates all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet, as they dominate the buyer side, the seller side, the auction side and even the video side with YouTube. This investigation is not a lawsuit. It is an investigation to determine the facts.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

In a blog post, Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, said last week that the company’s services support thousands of jobs and help small businesses.

“At the same time, it’s of course right that governments should have oversight to ensure that all successful companies, including ours, are complying with the law,” Walker wrote, adding that Google has answered many of the questions raised over many years in the United States and abroad. “We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so. We look forward to showing how we are investing in innovation, providing services that people want, and engaging in robust and fair competition.”

Monday's announcement is not the first foray into probing the massive provider of internet products, though it might mark one of the largest investigations into its operations.

Utah’s Reyes and Racine, the D.C. attorney general, sent a letter to Google more than two years ago seeking to understand how it ranks links related to its own businesses.

“There used to be a day when we search Google that we would be presented with links unrelated to the Google businesses,” Racine said Monday. “There's a very compelling analysis to suggest that the overwhelming number of query responses relate to Google businesses and or advertisers that pay for that slot within those links.”

The European Commission has also brought three antitrust actions against Google.

The tech giant is also under investigation by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, the former of which recently made its first legal demand for Google records, The Washington Post reported.

Only California, which is home to Google’s headquarters, and Alabama did not join their fellow state attorneys general in the probe.