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The US state of Missouri has launched an investigation into Google, seeking to determine whether the search giant has broken consumer protection and anti-trust laws.

In a statement, Missouri attorney-general Josh Hawley said the probe would seek to determine if Google had broken the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act and the state's anti-trust laws.

Google was issued a subpoena on Monday US time and asked to show if it had adhered to Missouri’s principal consumer-protection statute.

Hawley is running for the US Senate in next year's elections and his move comes at a time when there is pressure on US technology companies on many fronts. Google and Facebook are facing questions over the extent to which use of their properties allowed Russia to influence the outcome of the US 2016 presidential elections.

Google is also under pressure in Europe where it is reported to be facing a second big fine, this over its AdSense advertising service.

The company was fined €2.42 billion (US$2.7 billion) in June over alleged allegedly abusing its search engine dominance to give illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service. It has appealed against this fine.

Hawley's statement said that the business practices in question were Google’s collection, use, and disclosure of information about users and their online activities; its alleged misappropriation of online content from competitors' websites; and its alleged manipulation of search results to preference its own websites and to demote websites that compete with it.

“There is strong reason to believe that Google has not been acting with the best interest of Missourians in mind,” Hawley said. “My office will not stand by and let private consumer information be jeopardised by industry giants, especially to pad their profits.”

Google's close ties with the White House during Barack Obama's eight years as president have been said to be the main reason why the company has avoided a probe into unfair competition in the US. A probe was proposed by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, but was not followed through.

"When a company has access to as much consumer information as Google does, it’s my duty to ensure they are using it appropriately," said Hawley. “I will not let Missouri consumers and businesses be exploited by industry giants."

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

 

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