State investigators to target Google for privacy issues as well as antitrust


The tech news is abuzz with reports that U.S. regulators intend to go after some of the biggest tech stocks on the market to evaluate whether some of these enormous platforms are culpable of monopolies and other antitrust activity.

However, new reports show that investigations go further into Google, a company that made its start by dominating search results, and has branched out into all sorts of other divisions including moonshot projects like hot air balloons offering roving Wi-Fi to unserved areas of the world.

CNET reports today that state attorney generals want to also look at how Google’s parent company, Alphabet, collects data from users.

Included in the scope of the investigation will be data collection processes for Google’s Chrome browser, and its acquired YouTube streaming video service.

The investigation will cover a timeline back to 2014, and there’s a deadline for Google to deliver information by October 9 in a new civil investigative demand from the office of Texas AG. Ken Paxton who is leading the charge with 48 state offices signed on.

In developing this type of deposition for Google, investigators are looking at how it rakes in information that has an impact on user privacy. For example, AGs intend to ask Google about why it would collect certain device information and behavioral data from the browser.

Another practice under consideration is called “retargeting,” where parties track activity across the web over multiple sites, and sometimes even multiple devices. The FTC and other agencies are looking critically at the limits of this kind of movable data collection for advertising that goes beyond the walls of a single company’s online footprint. The consensus is generally that is one thing to advertise aggressively on your own site, but it’s another thing, and a potential privacy violation, to follow users wherever they go and continue to barrage them with ads.

Although it looks like this probe is moving ahead quickly, the Texas AG has been circumspect about immediate results.

“It’s an investigation to determine the facts,” Paxton said as quoted by CNet. “Right now it’s about advertising, but the facts will lead where they lead.”