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Missouri AG subpoenas Google in antitrust investigation

Missouri AG subpoenas Google in antitrust investigation
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Missouri's attorney general launched an investigation into Google’s data collection and search practices, saying that the internet giant has so far received a “free pass” by federal regulators.

Josh Hawley, a Republican, announced the probe on Monday, saying that his office has issued a subpoena to Google.

In a press conference, Hawley noted that Google and the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement in 2013 after a similar investigation centering on whether the company was favoring its own services in search results over those of its competitors.

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“But frankly, the Obama-era FTC did not take any enforcement action against Google, did not press this forward and has essentially given them a free pass,” Hawley said.

The FTC declined to comment.

The investigation will focus on three areas: Google’s data collection practices, allegations that it has been cribbing information from rivals’ sites and whether its search results are giving more prominent placement to the company’s own services.

"We have not yet received the subpoena, however, we have strong privacy protections in place for our users and continue to operate in a highly competitive and dynamic environment," Google spokesman Patrick Lenihan said in a statement.

The Kansas City Star first reported the investigation.

Hawley announced last month that he would be running to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements McCaskill campaign says ‘intern’ who filmed campaign had access to voter data McConnell defends Trump-backed lawsuit against ObamaCare MORE (D-Mo.). McCaskill is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators on the ballot in 2018.

Google was hit with a record $2.8 billion fine from the European Union in June for giving prominent search result placement to its own comparison shopping service.

The FTC closed a similar investigation into the company in 2013 without a fine, though Yelp, which has been battling the search company for years, has asked the agency to probe whether Google has violated a settlement agreement.

In light of the EU fine, some critics are scrutinizing the FTC’s decision not to take action against Google. FTC staff members had advised filing a lawsuit against Google over its search practices, according to internal documents released to The Wall Street Journal in 2015.

Last month, Rep. Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonGOP lawmaker once belittled sexual harassment: 'How traumatizing was it?' Dershowitz: Obama, Ellison have 'special obligation' to condemn Farrakhan Ellison accuses ex-wife of physical abuse, divorce records show: report MORE (D-Minn.) called on the FTC to publicly release the analysis from its investigation.

“There is strong reason to believe that Google has not been acting with the best interest of Missourians in mind,” Hawley said on Monday. “My office will not stand by and let private consumer information be jeopardized by industry giants, especially to pad their profits.” 

This story was last updated at 2:02 p.m.