Attorneys General from 48 US states have formally announced an antitrust probe on Monday into Alphabet’s Google, indicating large scale scrutiny of the tech giants practises. The investigators have stated that the tech giant is allegedly stomping out the competition and may be in violation of anti-competitive business practices. It has also been revealed that the investigation has come after regulators in the US have received complaints of Google’s monopolistic behaviour and misuse of the platform to collect data of users for unethical targeted advertising as well as manipulating search results to prioritise its subsidiaries as well as paid customers.
Recently, online project management company Basecamp complained and compared Google’s paid search ads “shakedown,” stating that the company was indirectly forced to pay to ensure its web presence against the rivals when someone tries to search for the company. “When Google puts 4 paid ads ahead of the first organic result for your own brand name, you’re forced to pay up if you want to be found. It’s a shakedown. It’s ransom,” CEO and co-founder Jason Fried said.
It’s Not The First Time For Google
Google also recently made a $170 million lawsuit settlement with FTC when it was found that Google’s YouTube video streaming service had violated child privacy rules by collecting users’ data without their parent's consent. This was the third time Google had to pay a large fine for violations of norms. In 2011, Google agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers when it launched its now-defunct social network, Google Buzz, in 2010.
Earlier this year, the European Commission hit Google with a fine of about $1.7 billion for “abusive practices” in online advertising, stating the search and advertising company broke the EU’s antitrust rules by hindering rival companies with its platform policies.
It is not just Google which is under investigation by US regulators. An antitrust probe into Facebook was also announced on Friday by New York Attorney General Letitia James. Attorneys general from seven states plus the District of Columbia are participating in the Facebook investigation. The social media giant had earlier paid a $5 billion settlement for sharing 87 million users’ data with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
What This Investigation Means For India
The US AG investigation into the practises of tech giants Google and Facebook will serve as a great lesson for Indian authorities as well. The Indian authorities have also been working to make sure companies in India are also not affected by anti-competitive practises of big tech.
Earlier, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) had said in its investigation that Google allegedly misused its dominant position in India and reduced the ability of device OEMs to choose alternate versions of its Android mobile operating system which is a violation of India’s antitrust law. Google’s “impugned conduct may help perpetuate its dominance in online search markets while resulting in a denial of market access for competing search apps,'' the CCI said in its order.
Google released a statement in which it said Android had empowered millions of Indians to connect to the internet by making mobile devices more affordable which led to more competition and innovation, not less. Prior to that, CCI had imposed a fine of ₹1.36 billion ($20 million) on Google for “search bias” and abuse of its dominant position.
To boost digital competitiveness, India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) is also reportedly considering establishing guidelines that would make large tech companies make non personal data of users available to competing companies. The law if implemented will ensure that there is a level playing field for companies and big tech companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook don’t have an advantage, said MeitY.
Historically, giant tech companies had been commended to be engines for mass innovation and connectivity. But ever since there has been increasing awareness and implementations of privacy laws like GDPR, they have faced heat both from end users and regulators for breaking norms concerning privacy and other competitive malpractices. Regulators have been making an argument that web search engines are utility tools open for any business to take advantage. After the investigation, if Google is found guilty of the alleged violations, it may be compelled to change its algorithms and practices.
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Vishal Chawla is a senior technology journalist at Analytics India Magazine, and writes on the latest trends in analytics, AI and other digital technologies. In the past, he was a senior correspondent for IDG ComputerWorld and CIO India. Vishal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org