Google faces antitrust investigation in Missouri

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By Paresh Dave

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 13 (Reuters) – Missouri’s attorney
general said Monday his office would investigate whether
Alphabet Inc’s Google violated the state’s consumer
protection and antitrust laws.

Josh Hawley, a Republican seeking to unseat Democratic U.S.
Senator Claire McCaskill in next year’s elections, announced at
a press conference that he issued an investigative subpoena to
Google. He expressed concern over the accuracy of the company’s
privacy policy, allegations it misappropriated content from
rivals and claims it demoted competitors’ websites in search
results.

Google said it had 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,” spokesperson Andrea Faville said in a
statement.

Google has come under growing scrutiny globally as it has
become a top provider of online search, mobile software and
advertising technology. But formal investigations have reached
varying results in the last seven years.

Attorney generals of 37 states reached a $7 million
settlement in 2013 over Google’s unauthorized collection of
Wi-Fi data through its Street View digital-mapping cars. A
Federal Trade Commission inquiry also prompted Google that year
to agree to provide advertisers and patent licensees more
flexible terms.

The FTC, though, did not bring the stronger antitrust
charges that Google rivals such as Microsoft Corp and
Yelp Inc sought. States including Ohio, Mississippi and
Texas saw inquiries falter without substantive consequences.

Missouri’s Hawley said the FTC’s inaction created an
opening.

“We are going to act to hold corporate giants accountable
… for the good of the people of Missouri,” Hawley said.

Asked at the press conference whether his senate candidacy
played a role in opening the Google inquiry, Hawley said he
acted upon his oath of office and desire “to get to the truth.”

He pointed to the European Union fining Google $2.7 billion
in June for unfairly favoring links to its own shopping service
over those from other e-commerce websites. Hawley said he was
moved to act because of concern that Google is engaging in
similar behavior domestically. Google is appealing the EU fine.

The other issue cited by Hawley may be tied to complaints
from Yelp. The business reviews’ website wrote the FTC and the
attorney generals of all 50 states in September that Google has
copied images from its service without permission in violation
of a commitment made to the U.S. antitrust regulator.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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