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Louisiana Joins Antitrust Probe into Google as Scrutiny of Big Tech Widens

Every state but California has launched an investigation.

(TNS) — Louisiana has signed onto an antitrust investigation that 50 U.S. states and territories have launched into Google and its “potential monopolistic behavior,” specifically targeting its digital advertising practices, as government scrutiny of technology giants continues to grow.

A group of Republican state attorneys general, including Louisiana’s Jeff Landry, as well as Democratic District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, announced the probe Monday on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, with Landry warning of an “existential threat to our virtual marketplace.”

“Google’s dominance now allows them to pick winners and losers in this exchange,” Landry said. “Continuing down this road will kill online publishing, or Google will say who stays and who goes. How’s that for the fulfillment of the internet promise of open places for ideas, debate and content?”

Louisiana joins 47 other states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, in bringing the investigation, which is being led by Texas. Alabama and California are the only states not participating.

The investigation comes as another group of 11 states, led by New York, begin investigating Facebook over the firm’s potential anticompetitive conduct, and as the federal government continues investigating big tech firms for similar activity.

Landry, who is among the most conservative officials in Louisiana, has been a leading voice calling for tech giants to be potentially broken up, accusing them of suppressing conservatives on social media and stifling competition.

He likened Google to a hypothetical company that owned the printing ink, printing presses and paper used to print all U.S. newspapers in the era before radio and television. He said the government would have stepped in to disallow that monopoly.

A Republican, Landry has called for an antitrust suit against tech firms since at least last September. On Monday, he said the “alarm bells” among state attorneys general began going off 18 months ago, when the National Association of Attorneys General, for which he serves as president, began discussing the issue at a meeting in Portland, Oregon. Landry testified at a hearing of the Federal Trade Commission later that year and his office has met with the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a recent interview, Landry said he’s concerned about the vast amount of personal data being collected by tech companies, and warned Google’s manipulation of the digital advertising market could continue to drive news organizations out of business.

The U.S. Department of Justice already launched its own antitrust investigation into technology companies earlier this summer, probing whether unspecified companies have harmed consumers by suppressing innovation or competition.

Google and Facebook dominate the digital advertising market, with Google accounting for $103 billion, or 31.1% of the digital ad market in 2019, according to eMarketer. Facebook is second at $67.37 billion in net ad revenues. Amazon has made gains in the U.S. digital ad space.

Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, Kent Walker, wrote in a blog post that it will continue to work “constructively” with regulators seeking information, and said it’s right that governments should ensure companies are complying with the law.

“We look forward to showing how we are investing in innovation, providing services that people want, and engaging in robust and fair competition,” he wrote.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the probe into Google, said the investigation will go where the facts lead, and added the coalition has already requested information from Google. He declined to offer details on what a potential resolution would look like, saying the investigation is just beginning.

Landry said on Fox Business in June that the end game in the probe, which at the point had not officially begun, is to make sure consumers understand the personal information that Google and other platforms are harvesting from them, and to make sure consumers are getting a good deal from their interactions with the sites. He didn’t rule out a breaking up of big tech companies like Google.

“This is an unusual setting right now,” Racine, a Democrat, said Monday while announcing the probe. “I’m next to friends of mine who I vehemently disagree with on issues like immigration, reproductive rights, gun rights and other issues … But we are acting as one today in regards to launching what I know will be a fair and full investigation.”

©2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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