Google Is Being Investigated By Missouri Attorney General

November 13, 2017, 8:49 PM UTC

The state of Missouri is gearing up for a legal battle with Google.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said Monday that his office is investigating the search giant over allegations that it violated the state’s various consumer-protection and antitrust laws.

Hawley’s office sent Google a subpoena on Monday morning demanding “documents and information” about its business practices, Hawley said during a press conference broadcasted on his professional Facebook page (and not the Google-owned YouTube, it should be noted).

Although Google has a standard 30-or-60 day period to respond to the request, it could potentially contest the subpoena, Hawley said.

“This is not a request if they feel like it,” Hawley said. “It is a legal obligation that they comply, and I would strongly counsel them to do so in an expeditious manner.”

Google spokesman Patrick Lenihan told Fortune in a statement that the company has “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.”

Hawley wants information from Google (GOOG) to determine whether the company’s privacy policy accurately reflects its current data collection and sharing practices and whether those practices “respect and protect consumer privacy,” he said.

He also said that his office is looking at unspecified allegations that Google “lifted information from competitors’ websites to use on Google’s own sites and Google products,” he said. Hawley acknowledged that Google entered an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2012 to stop this so-called scraping practice, but criticized the commission for failing to substantially punish the search giant.

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“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.

In September, online business listing company Yelp (YELP) sent a letter to the FTC and all 50 state attorney generals alleging that Google was taking and reusing images from Yelp in displaying search results of various local businesses. Hawley did not say whether Yelp’s letter prompted his office to subpoena Google.

The attorney general also cited the European Commission’s recent $2.7 billion fine of Google over alleged violations of antitrust laws as a reason that his office is seeking more information about the company’s business practices in Missouri. The EC, which is part of the European Union, claimed that Google is unfairly promoting its own online shopping service over competing services.

Hawley said that “substantial evidence suggests” that Google is manipulating its core search service to list its own Google-websites higher in search results, although he didn’t cite the evidence.

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.”

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. Hawley said that investigation did not specifically prompt the Google subpoena, instead saying that Google’s sheer size as the “largest search engine” gives it “arguable monopoly power,” and that he is concerned over the transparency of its business practices.

“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.

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