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Schmitt takes on big tech with multi-state Google probe

Attorney General Eric Schmitt is following in his predecessor’s digital footprints.

Schmitt joined attorneys general from 50 states and territories to launch a massive probe into Google’s business practices, particularly as it relates to advertising. The antitrust probe, announced earlier this week, will delve into advertising and search control, investigating whether the tech giant has engaged in behavior detrimental to businesses. 

Schmitt pointed to the bipartisan nature of the investigation and said he plans to ensure it’s conducted in a “fair and impartial” manner. But he also wants to make sure Google is operating in responsibly and legally. 

“It’s like if you buy a house, and Google owned the house and all the other ones on the street and in the city and in the state, and Google is the buyers’ and sellers’ agent,” Schmitt said. “Google on every side of the sale raises questions.”

“Even the biggest of the big tech companies need to be held accountable,” Schmitt told The Missouri Times. 

Schmitt said individuals expect to be given a fair answer to search queries in Google. And when it comes to small businesses, in particular, it’s imperative to ensure Google’s advertising practices are fair in order to allow them to compete as well. 

“The internet impacts our lives every single day, and Google is one of the most recognizable and most used search engines and tech platforms in the world. However, as we wrestle with the continued unsettling actions of our largest tech firms such as Google, we must ensure that those companies who have risen to the top have done so through free market competition and not anti-competitive tactics,” Schmitt said. 

Probes such as this are generally lengthy and could take years to complete. 

“Google’s services help people, create more choice, and support thousands of jobs and small businesses across the United States,” Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs for Google, said. “Google is one of America’s top spenders on research and development, making investments that spur innovation … At the same time, it’s of course right that governments should have the oversight to ensure that all successful companies, including ours, are complying with the law.” 

Holding Google accountable is something Schmitt’s predecessor, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, is exceptionally familiar with. Hawley launched an antitrust probe as Missouri’s attorney general and has continued to take on juggernaut tech companies at the federal level. (In fact, his U.S. Senate campaign has fundraised off his fight against these companies.) 

After the announcement of the probe, Hawley shared a message for the attorneys general on social media: “The companies are lawyering up, trying to find ways to divide you, and looking for every chance to stonewall. Don’t let them. And don’t back down.” 

“I was proud to launch the first antitrust and privacy investigation of Big Tech by an attorney general two years ago. I’m heartened to see a new group of attorneys general with the courage to stand up to these powerful companies and fight for citizens,” Hawley told The Missouri Times in a statement. “Big Tech companies should be held accountable if they are violating our privacy or harming our children or killing innovation.”

But some free market groups and experts are not on board with the probes. 

“The term ‘monopolies’ is an oxymoron. If it’s plural, it’s not a problem,” said Patrick Hedger, a research fellow at the libertarian-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Ultimately the bottom line of these companies depends on where Americans choose to spend their time online. Are they watching videos on Google-owned YouTube and messaging their friends on Gmail, or are they scrolling through Facebook and chatting on Messenger? These companies hold each other infinitely more accountable than a handful of politicians could ever hope to.” 

The multi-state probe comes after Congress, the Justice Department, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have launched probes into big tech companies, including Facebook and Amazon, as well as Google.

The attorneys general from Alabama and California are the only two who did not join the bipartisan probe.