Google Antitrust Investigation Outlined by State Attorneys General

The state attorneys general from about four dozen states officially declared on Monday that they are beginning investigations into the market power and corporate behavior of big tech companies.

The formal declaration, delivered from the steps of the United States Supreme Court by a bipartisan group of state officials, adds investigative muscle and political momentum to the intensifying scrutiny of the tech giants by federal watchdog agencies and Congress.

The states’ are focusing on two targets: Facebook and Google.

Letitia James, the Democratic attorney general of New York, announced on Friday that a bipartisan group were investigating Facebook. That came with a simple press statement. The event on Monday, formally announcing the Google investigation and discussing Facebook, was a news conference in the nation’s capital.

Ken Paxton, the Republican attorney general of Texas, another large state with a sizable legal staff, is taking a lead role in the Google inquiry.

In a statement, Mr. Paxton noted that there was nothing wrong with a company becoming big and powerful. But, he said, “We have seen evidence that Google’s business practices may have undermined consumer choice, stifled innovation, violated users’ privacy and put Google in control of the flow and dissemination of online information.”

The state inquiries coincide with bipartisan scrutiny of the tech companies in Washington, by House and Senate committees, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Federal officials are examining the practices of Amazon and Apple as well as those of Facebook and Google.

The states can play a key role, often in concert with federal regulators and Congress, in building evidence and public support for major investigations. That was the pattern in the landmark antitrust case against Microsoft, when 20 states joined the Justice Department in suing the software giant in 1998.

The very public declaration on Monday, at the nation’s highest court, was partly political theater but it was also seen as a signal of the states’ commitment.

“This kind of high-profile announcement creates expectations and it does put pressure on the federal agencies to follow through — to seriously investigate these companies,” said Andrew I. Gavil, a law professor at Howard University. “And by making it bipartisan, they are wisely laying the groundwork for what could be a lengthy and far-reaching investigation.”

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