Missouri's attorney general said Monday that he has launched an investigation into whether Google has mishandled private customer data and manipulated its search results to favor its own products and stifle competitors.
The Kansas City Star reported on Monday that Attorney General Josh Hawley has issued subpoenas to Google as part of the investigation. He is also looking into whether Google scrapes information without permission from competitors like Yelp Inc.to use for its own search results, and is questioning Google's collection, use and disclosure of information about its users and their online activities.
"We have 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", a Google spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement.
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Hawley's office said Missouri's strong consumer-protection laws could help with a potential lawsuit over user data.
The Federal Trade Commission has come to rely more heavily on states attorneys general for enforcement. This past September, Yelp complained to the FTC that Google was violating that agreement. States including Ohio, Mississippi and Texas saw inquiries falter without substantive consequences. Hawley said that his preliminary investigation suggests that Google may not be accurately disclosing how much data it collects about customers and that people don't have a meaningful choice to opt out of Google's data collection.
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".
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Hawley noted that Google was fined $2.7 billion earlier this year by the European Union for for abusing its market dominance as a search engine to promote its own comparison shopping service.
"We're concerned they're engaged in a similar pattern of behavior in the United States", he told reporters. The FTC sometimes comments on state regulations or coordinates a joint investigation, and state attorneys general can bring federal antitrust suits on behalf of a citizen of their state.
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