State Attorneys General Investigate Google; In Texas, Ken Paxton Takes The Lead

The probe centers on whether Google used its dominance in search to thwart companies in other markets where competition is stronger.

By Jill AmentSeptember 9, 2019 11:54 am, , ,

On Monday, a large group of state attorneys general, including Ken Paxton of Texas, will officially announce antitrust probes into tech giants, Facebook and Google.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Paxton’s office will lead the probe into Google. A press release from Paxton’s office on Friday stated that the probes will investigate “whether large tech companies have engaged in anti-competitive behavior.”

Abraham Wickelgren is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, specializing in antitrust and the intersection of law and economics. He says regulators believe Google, the market leader among search engines, may be leveraging that power to dominate certain areas of the market where it faces more competition. And Facebook’s acquisition of other social networks and messaging platforms concern some attorneys general who see that as anti-competitive, he says.

Wickelgren says that dominating a market, or even holding a business monopoly, is not illegal. But if Google, Facebook or another company were directing consumers away from competitors in favor of its own platforms, that could run afoul of antitrust rules. 

Wickelgren says the public is more skeptical of big tech companies these days. That sentiment is seeping into politics, which is partly why state attorneys general are taking on these cases, he says. 

“Big tech is viewed more negatively now,” Wickelgren says. “Privacy concerns I think are making people more skeptical of big tech, and, I think, leading to more concerns over antitrust issues.”

Federal and state governments have jurisdiction over antitrust matters, Wickelgren says. 

“We often see states working alongside either the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission in big antitrust cases,” he says. 

It’s unknown whether the attorneys general will launch a full investigation or court case against Google or Facebook, Wickelgren says. Complaints would have to be filed and court cases litigated before any sanctions or breakup of tech companies could occur. And any investigation could last several years.

“Typically, breakup is a last resort,” Wickelgren says.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.