As the Trump administration moves toward antitrust action against search giant Google, it’s campaigning to enlist support from state attorneys general across the country.
President Donald Trump pushed his campaign against Big Tech on Wednesday, touting curbs on legal protections for social media platforms he denounces as biased against conservative views.
“In recent years, a small group of technology platforms have tightened their grip over commerce and communications in America,” Trump said at a White House event with Attorney General William Barr and Republican attorneys general from several states.
“They’ve used this power to engage in unscrupulous business practices while simultaneously waging war on free enterprise and free expression.”
The anticipated lawsuit against Google by the Justice Department could be the government’s biggest legal offensive to protect competition in almost 20 years.
Lawmakers and consumer advocates accuse Google of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising to stifle competition and boost its profits.
For over a year, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have pursued sweeping antitrust investigations of Big Tech companies, looking into whether Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple have hurt competition, stifled innovation or otherwise harmed consumers.
And a bipartisan coalition of 50 U.S. states and territories, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, announced a year ago on the steps of the Supreme Court that they were investigating Google’s business practices. They cited “potential monopolistic behavior.”
Now the Justice Department appears to be approaching legal action against Google and soliciting the support of state attorneys general on an issue of rare bipartisan agreement.
Along with the antitrust drive, the Justice Department has asked Congress to roll back legal protections for online platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter.
Trump signed an executive order earlier this year challenging the protections from lawsuits under a 1996 telecommunications law.
The White House said Wednesday the legislative proposal would protect the open internet and prevent hidden manipulation by social media.
In addition, Barr said, the government will provide individuals the ability to pursue legal claims against online platforms for “bad-faith censorship.”
Social media platforms can abuse consumers’ trust “by deciding which voices they are going to amplify and which they are going to throttle, and by improperly tracking, collecting user data and even facilitating criminal activity,” Barr said.
The Justice Department’s antitrust officials are expected to discuss their planned action against Google in Washington meetings and a conference call with the state attorneys general on Thursday.
“Big Tech has a powerful influence on commerce and our daily lives, warranting significant scrutiny,” Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Any effort to abuse that influence for competitive gain calls for vigorous enforcement of the antitrust laws.”
The Trump administration has long had Google in its sights. A top economic adviser to the president said two years ago that the White House was considering whether Google searches should be subject to government regulation.
The company, based in Mountain View, California, has denied the claims of liberal bias and insists that it never ranks search results to manipulate political views.
Google has argued that although its businesses are large, they are beneficial to consumers. It maintains that its services face ample competition.
A House Judiciary subcommittee has pursued its own bipartisan investigation of Big Tech’s market dominance.
The panel’s chairman, Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, accused Google in a July hearing of leveraging its dominant search engine to steal ideas and information from other websites and manipulating its results to drive people to its own digital services.
Antitrust regulators in Europe have cracked down on Google in recent years by imposing multibillion-dollar fines and ordering changes to its practices.
Google, whose parent is Alphabet Inc., controls about 90 percent of global web searches. Its dominance in online search and advertising enables it to target millions of consumers for their personal data.
Google dwarfs other search competitors such as Microsoft’s Bing and Yelp and has faced harsh criticism for favoring its own products over competitors at the top of search results.
Google also owns the leading web browser in Chrome, the world’s largest mobile operating system in Android, the top video site in YouTube and the most popular digital mapping system.
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