Google knows a LOT about you. The tech giant holds an enormous amount of information on more than 1 billion people around the world. And what it does with that data is even more unnerving. Google freely sells the information it collects on you — where you work, where you shop online, every place you go, even the contents of your most private emails — to third-party companies.
Not only is Google invading our personal privacy, it is also appears to be using its behemoth power to dominate and manipulate the U.S. digital marketplace. The giant search engine stands accused of using its dominance not only to promote its own products over those of competitors, but to manipulate and control consumers’ lives as well.
In June, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood told The Wall Street Journal that concerns over the stifling of internet competition and antitrust practices by Google and other big tech companies have reached a level “up there with the Standard Oil trust during that era , the robber barons in the 1800s — we’re looking at that kind of political power.”
In a rare show of bipartisanship, on Monday, Mississippi joined 47 other states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, in launching an antitrust investigation into Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. The announcement was made at a news conference led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton together with a dozen or so other attorneys general held in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
On Monday, the states issued Google a civil subpoena requesting information on its advertising practices. While the investigation will focus mainly on Google, the antitrust probe could come to include Amazon, Apple and Facebook as well. Across the country, regulators have become increasingly concerned about Silicon Valley’s growing power, its control of enormous amounts of personal data and how those four big tech companies continue to eliminate competition on the internet.
In an opinion column published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, Paxton explained that the investigation was launched to address how Google has attained almost total “power to control what we read and manipulate the people and companies we do business with. It can compromise our privacy. It can crush its competition, and consumer choice, merely by submerging competitors’ websites in a murky sea of search results. Information is power, and Americans are beginning to realize how much power Google has over them.”
In response, Google says that it will cooperate with the probe. “We continue to work constructively with regulators, including attorneys general, in answering questions about our business and the dynamic technology sector,” Google representative Jose Castaneda said in a statement.
We were happy to see Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring among the 50 top cops involved in the probe. In a statement released Monday, Herring noted that “big tech companies and their products have become ubiquitous in nearly every phase of American life, offering an unprecedented range of products, gathering and utilizing consumer data in a way we’ve never seen before, and exercising significant influence over a diverse set of important markets. That’s why it’s important to ensure that these large, powerful corporations do not harm Virginians by engaging in unlawful, anti-competitive business practices.”
The two states notable for not joining the coalition are Alabama and California. As of this writing, neither state has offered much of an explanation. Those most familiar with the issue say California’s silence is especially perplexing given that the Golden State is home to Google. A spokesperson for Xavier Becerra, California’s chief law enforcement officer, declined comment, saying only that “California remains deeply concerned and committed to fighting anti-competitive behavior.” But its worth noting that over the course of his political career, Becerra has received more than $23,000 in contributions from Google’s corporate political action committee. And two Google executives donated $2,600 and $5,300, respectively, to Becerra’s campaigns.
We will be watching as the investigation unfolds. John Sherman, principal author of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, once remarked, “If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life.” By the same token, nor should we endure one entity possessing and selling our most private information or ruling over our ability to search the internet freely.
— Robin Beres