Florida Politics

Now Florida’s attorney general joins many others in investigating Google

Feinstein addresses tech firms in hearing: ‘I don’t think you get it’

Sen. Diane Feinstein did not hold back when questioning representatives of Google, Facebook and Twitter on Nov. 1. “You’ve created these platforms…and now they’re being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it…or we will"
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Sen. Diane Feinstein did not hold back when questioning representatives of Google, Facebook and Twitter on Nov. 1. “You’ve created these platforms…and now they’re being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it…or we will"

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is joining 47 other states on a wide-ranging investigation into potential antitrust violations at Google.

Moody joined several other attorneys general outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Monday to announce the bipartisan probe.

Moody told reporters that the investigation will start with Google’s dominance in online advertising but could lead to how the tech giant handles users’ data.

“When there is no longer a free market or competition, this increases prices, even when something is marketed as free,” Moody said. “Is something really free if we are increasingly giving over our privacy information? Is something really free if online ad prices go up based on one company’s control?”

It’s the second time in four days that Moody, a Republican elected last year, has joined Florida in bipartisan investigations into the nation’s largest tech companies, which have faced increasing scrutiny by the public and press the past few years.

On Friday, New York’s attorney general announced that Florida had joined seven other states

investigating “Facebook’s dominance in the industry and the potential anti-competitive conduct stemming from that dominance.”

“Even the largest social media platform in the world must follow the law and respect consumers,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Officials with Facebook and Google said they were cooperating with the investigations.

“Google’s services help people every day, create more choice for consumers, and support thousands of jobs and small businesses across the country,” Google spokesman Jose Castañeda told the Wall Street Journal. “We continue to work constructively with regulators, including attorneys general, in answering questions about our business and the dynamic technology sector.”

Since the 2016 election, the nation’s largest tech companies have been heavily criticized after it was learned that Russians manipulated Facebook to try to sow discord among Americans.

President Donald Trump’s objections with Google are different. He tweeted last month an accusation by a former employee that the tech giant had suppressed negative stories on Hillary Clinton in Google search results, while boosting negative stories about him.

“All very illegal,” Trump tweeted on Aug. 6. “We are watching Google very closely!”

The Justice Department is also investigating Google for antitrust issues.

The vast majority of revenue for Google and its parent company, Alphabet, comes from online ads. The company dominates the market with its search business, its ownership of Adsense, which sells ads, and in videos ads through YouTube, which Google also owns.

“Google monitors our online behavior and captures data of every one of us as we navigate the Internet,” Moody said Monday. “And this investigation will initially focus on the capture of that information and whether Google embedded itself in every level of the online market ad sales to monopolize this industry.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt compared the online advertising market to buying a house, yet Google owned the house and the majority of houses in the country, and it represented both the buyer and seller in the deal.

“Certainly there are questions that need to be raised,” said Schmitt, a Republican.

The unusual bipartisan nature of the investigation was noted by Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine, who touted it as evidence of the worthiness of the probe. Along with D.C., Puerto Rico also joined the investigation. California and Alabama were the only two states not to take part.

“We are acting as one today, in regards to launching what I know will be a full and fair investigation,” he said.

The investigation is being led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who hinted on Monday that the initial investigation could spawn others.

“Right now we’re looking at advertising,” he said. “But the facts will lead where the facts lead.”

Contact Lawrence Mower at lmower@tampabay.com. Follow @lmower3

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