Heading toward the end of a year which has no doubt proven trying for practically all of the online “giants,” Google, perhaps the biggest of all, is facing yet another anti-trust investigation, this time brought against it by a nationwide group of states, including DC and Puerto Rico.

The investigation appears to be following a two-pronged approach, alleging concerns that the company is raising costs for advertisers, as well as questioning whether consumers are getting the best information from search results.

Dominating Advertising

According to Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General leading the probe, “This is a company that dominates all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet.”

And this particular probe is only the latest of a growing group of anti-trust investigations Google (amongst others) is facing as governments around the world begin to raise concerns about the dominance of the biggest industry participants.

As regulation and legislation have struggled to keep up with the pace of technological development, companies like Google (Alphabet) and Facebook have been largely left to their own devices, but as the impact and extent of digital marketing and interaction have grown, governments are now feeling the need to begin to try and rein them in.

Political…Interference?

Consumer groups have expressed surprise (probably pleasant surprise) at the size of this investigation. Almost every state in the country has joined in on this, and that means a lot of resources and time can be spent on it. Shares of parent company Alphabet fell almost 1% on the announcement of the investigation.

Analysts suggest that the sheer size of the group should be of concern to Google, particularly given the states history of winning huge fines from corporations such as banks and the tobacco industry.

The investigation is focused on digital advertising, effectively the majority source of income for the company. Alphabet reported $116 Billion in ad revenue last year, 85% of all sales.

Wide Scope

The announcement of this investigation came just days after a separate coalition of states announced and investigation of Facebook, and follows the announcement of  yet a another separate probe into Google’s advertising practices by the US Justice Department.

Government transparency group “Public Citizen” released a statement saying “The time has come for the tech giants to be held accountable for violating our antitrust laws. Google’s anticompetitive behavior is a serious problem for our economy and our democracy, and the state attorneys general clearly get that.”

Digital Catchup

Given how many investigations, hearings, probes and committees we’ve reported on over the course of the last couple of years, it certainly seems that governments are starting to take seriously the (apparent) need to better regulate the internet. But while big corporations are easy targets, and we may benefit from some sort of regulations imposed on them, hopefully the internet itself will continue to prove resistant, as it always has.

Editorial Aside

Look…I’m the last person to defend Google. And the first to admit that they have an effective monopoly. But they don’t (and can’t) force anybody to use Google. They don’t force anybody to advertise, and they certainly don’t force anybody to click on ads.

There is a reason that they went from complete and utter obscurity 20-odd years ago to the leading (by far) search engine in the world. And that’s because they are good. Have people forgotten what search used to be like in the 90’s? (Probably. 😀 )

Google, almost single-handedly, changed what it meant to search the internet. They might not have made it possible, but they made it work, better than anybody before, or, really, since.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said “When my daughter is sick and I search online for advice or doctors, I want the best advice from the best doctors not the ones – not the doctor and not the clinic – who can spend the most on advertising,“

To this I can only respond “Maybe don’t click on an ad then. They’re quite clearly labelled (these days).” Maybe look at the organic results, and then maybe do a little research about those results.

Google has no practical way to determine the veracity of any particular result. All they know is what the words on the page are. All they promise to do is offer you a selection of pages that appear to match your query. They’re working on ways, they are doubtless working hard. But all they can do for sure, is connect you to pages that seem to be relevant to what you’re asking.

I have to wonder if all these states are not after a chunk of the fine they foresee coming.