Google antitrust probe: How it affects you

Google is officially the focus of a sweeping antitrust investigation.

Attorneys general for all 50 US states and territories on Monday announced a wide-ranging review into Google, to explore whether it threatens competition, consumers, and internet growth. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, while out front of the Supreme Court, described Google dominating “all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet.

Keep in mind, just six years, the FTC closed an investigation into search and advertising and chose not to break up Google. Since then, however, Google has faced much scrutiny, even racking up over $9 billion in competition-related fines in Europe over the past three years. Both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission also are investigating if Big Tech as a whole stifles competition.

To be clear, Google is only being investigated at this point, and no lawsuit has been brought forth. Paxton reportedly said the initial focus will be online advertising, but attorneys general from individual states, including Florida, Louisiana, and Nebraska, also expressed their concerns over other issues, like in the way Google ranks search results and how specifically it tries to protect users personal information.

“When there is no longer a free market or competition, this increases prices, even when something is marketed as free, and harms consumers,” said Florida state attorney general Ashley Moody, a Republican. “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?”

When reached for comment, a Google spokesperson shared a blog post, where it admitted it had received requests for information from the Department of Justice about its business practices and expects state attorneys general will ask more questions. “We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so,” Google said in Friday’s post.

How will this affect you?

Regulatory action on big tech companies on a federal level has little impact on consumers, so far. In the past, it usually results in fines from the FTC. But antitrust is different from privacy and consumer protection concerns, which is something both Google and Facebook have been fine over in the past. Antitrust could impact companies’ business models, and in the long run, that could affect you.

If the federal or state probes determine Google has exhibited anti-competitive, for instance, it could be forced to change its algorithms to make it easier for rivals to compete, and it might even be compelled to spin-off entire business arms like YouTube.

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