Google begins responding to Texas antitrust investigators' data demands

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© Reuters. Google begins responding to Texas antitrust investigators' data demands© Reuters. Google begins responding to Texas antitrust investigators’ data demands

By Diane Bartz and Paresh Dave

AUSTIN/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Texas officials managing a sprawling investigation of the advertising practices at Alphabet Inc’s (O:) Google have begun receiving data from the search and advertising giant after two previous probes bogged down in extended document fights.

The Texas attorney general’s office said that as of Thursday, it had received some data from Google but declined to discuss it further.

The investigation, which involves all state attorneys general except Alabama and California, seeks to dig into the opaque business of online digital advertising, where Google is a dominant player. AGs for the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico are also part of the investigation.

Google, which had no immediate comment for this story, offers free searches, email and other services but much of its revenue is from advertising.

The investigation is in early stages. Texas sent a lengthy request for information to Google last month, with a response date of Oct 9.

At least twice previously, Google battled state attorneys general over data needed to complete investigations, which included antitrust and consumer protection issues.

Then-Missouri Attorney General Joshua Hawley, who has since become a U.S senator, announced an investigation into Google in 2017. He recently complained that Google at the time balked at providing information and then inundated his office with outdated documents.

Google has disputed Hawley’s assertions.

Texas opened a previous multi-state antitrust investigation into Google in mid-2010. In 2012, Texas sued Google after it declined to share documents it deemed protected under attorney-client privilege. That eventually was resolved, and Texas dropped the investigation in 2014.

Jeff Mateer, Texas’ first assistant attorney general, said in an interview that Google has responded through its legal counsel to last month’s document request.

“We’re in the process of negotiating their compliance,” he said. “To date they seem to be cooperating.”

If Google does balk, the states will fight, Mateer added.

“If we have to use the courts to get the information, then we will use them,” he said.

Google faces two other major inquiries – a U.S. Justice Department investigation and a probe by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee – both of which have broad reviews of the big internet companies underway.

Texas state officials are in touch with the Justice Department about their investigations.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been critical of Google. In a fund-raising email last month, he said Texans “are put at risk” by the company, “whose executives clearly display anti-conservative and anti-Republican bias, subtly controlling what Americans see when they search for information about national political issues.”

But Mateer sought to allay concerns that the investigation was inspired by anything other than antitrust complaints.

“What we have been tasked to pursue is digital advertising,” he said. “We do not contemplate that – that being the investigation into conservative bias – as a part of this antitrust investigation. We do not.”