Missouri Attorney General Launches Probe Into Google's Business Practices

Missouri's attorney general said Monday that he has launched an investigation into whether Google has mishandled private customer data and manipulated its search results to favor its own products and stifle competitors. The state has issued Google a subpoena seeking information about its business practices.

When asked by a reporter whether Hawley's current bid for U.S. Senate in Missouri influenced his office's decision to investigate Google, Hawley responded that the decision was made to "protect the people of Missouri".

Google spokesman Patrick Lenihan in a Monday statement said the company has "strong privacy protections in place" and operates in a "highly competitive" environment.

Additionally, Hawley says he plans to investigate allegations that Google wrongly scrapes material from competitors' sites.

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While Missouri's move is the first state initiative since Washington took notice this fall, it is not the first time that a state's top law enforcement officer has put scrutiny at Google.

Hawley noted Google has access to an estimated 70 percent of all card transactions in the United States, as well as online users' location, device information, cookie data, online queries and website history. The investigation comes on the heels of a $2.7 billion fine issued to the company by the European Union for antitrust violations.

In September, Yelp wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission that Google had violated a 2012 settlement by allegedly scraping photos from online reviews for its own search results.

Hawley's office, in addition to other state attorney generals, are also investigating Equifax over the role that company played in a massive data breach.

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Federal regulators in the USA also have investigated the company over antitrust claims, but Google settled with the Federal Trade Commission in 2013 without making any major concessions on how the company runs its internet search engine.

"Our own investigation suggests that they may be collecting much more than they are telling consumers and that consumers don't have an option, a meaningful option, to opt-out", Hawley said.

Google was not immediately available to comment.

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