N.H. Attorney General investigating Google

FILE - In this May 1, 2019, file photo a man walks past a Google sign outside with a span of the Bay Bridge at rear in San Francisco. A group of states are expected to announce an investigation into Google on Monday, Sept. 9, to investigate whether the tech company has become too big. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

NASHUA – The company whose name has become virtually interchangeable with “internet search” is under investigation by New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, along with attorneys general representing 49 other states and territories, for alleged monopolistic business practices.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has a market value of more than $820 billion. It controls so many facets of the internet that it is fairly impossible to surf the web for long without running into at least one of its services.

Google’s dominance in online search and advertising enables it to target millions of consumers for their personal data.

“The internet plays a critical role in our business and social lives. The way large corporations such as Google are able to control the flow of information raises significant concerns about business practices, reducing consumer choice, and violating users’ privacy,” MacDonald said.

The coalition of attorneys general, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, on Monday announced plans to investigate Google’s alleged control of online advertising markets and search traffic that may have led to anticompetitive behavior that harms consumers.

“New Hampshire will be actively participating in this important effort and, as with any investigation, we will go where the facts lead us,” he added.

During a Monday press conference in Washington, D.C., Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said 50 attorneys general joining together sends a “strong message to Google.”

California, wherein Google is headquartered, and Alabama are not part of the investigation. Tara Gallegos, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, declined to confirm or deny any state investigation and would not comment on the announcement by the other states.

Google expects the state authorities will ask the company about past similar investigations in the U.S. and internationally, senior vice president of global affairs Kent Walker wrote in a blog post Friday.

Critics often point to Google’s 2007 acquisition of online advertising company DoubleClick as pivotal to its advertising dominance.

Europe’s antitrust regulators slapped Google with a $1.7 billion fine in March for unfairly inserting exclusivity clauses into contracts with advertisers, disadvantaging rivals in the online ad business.

Google has long argued that although its businesses are large, they are useful and beneficial to consumers.

“Google is one of America’s top spenders on research and development, making investments that spur innovation,” Walker wrote. “Things that were science fiction a few years ago are now free for everyone — translating any language instantaneously, learning about objects by pointing your phone, getting an answer to pretty much any question you might have.”

But federal and state regulators and policymakers are growing more concerned not just with the company’s impact on ordinary internet users, but also on smaller companies striving to compete in Google’s markets.

“On the one hand, you could just say, ‘well Google is dominant because they’re good,'” said Jen King, the director of privacy at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society. “But at the same time, it’s created an ecosystem where people’s whole internet experience is mediated through Google’s home page and Google’s other products.”

A good first place to look might be online advertising. Google will control 31.1% of global digital ad dollars in 2019, according to eMarketer estimates, crushing a distant second-place Facebook. And many smaller advertisers have argued that Google has such a stranglehold on the market that it becomes a system of whatever Google says, goes — because the alternative could be not reaching customers.

“There’s definitely concern on the part of the advertisers themselves that Google wields way too much power in setting rates and favoring their own services over others,” King said.