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Google: DOJ Requested Info As First Step In New Antitrust Probe

The internet services giant for the first time acknowledges looming investigations from state and federal regulators. Parent Alphabet tells the SEC that the U.S. Attorney General’s antitrust regulators want information on previous investigations of its business practices

Google revealed Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice has asked the company to provide documents related to past investigations as part of a new probe into potentially anti-competitive business practices.

For the time acknowledging a looming investigation from both state and federal authorities, Google pledged to demonstrate it was "engaging in robust and fair competition," wrote Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president for global affairs, in a Google blog post.

"The DOJ has asked us to provide information about these past investigations, and we expect state attorneys general will ask similar questions. We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so," Walker said.

The Internet services giant made a similar assertion to the SEC, informing the regulatory agency that parent Alphabet "received a civil investigative demand from the DOJ requesting information and documents relating to our prior antitrust investigations in the United States and elsewhere."

[Related: U.S. Justice Department Readies Google Antitrust Probe: Report]

Google settled an antitrust probe in 2013 with the FTC without incurring any punitive fines. FTC regulators examined whether Google, following its acquisition of Motorola, sought or threatened injunctions against competitors' products through the International Trade Commission, despite prior promises from Motorola to license relevant patents.

As to the latest request from the Justice Department's antitrust division, Walker said, "we expect to receive in the future similar investigative demands from state attorneys general. We continue to cooperate with the DOJ, federal and state regulators in the United States, and other regulators around the world."

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in the day that Google, already bracing for a new probe from federal regulators, will likely soon also have to contend with three dozen individual states scrutinizing potential antitrust violations.

A spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton added Friday that a bipartisan group of state AGs will announce on Monday investigations into large tech companies for antitrust violations.

Google's disclosure to the SEC noted that a document it sent that agency in July informed of increased regulatory scrutiny of online technology companies and a coming DOJ probe of market-leading online platforms.

"It’s of course right that governments should have oversight to ensure that all successful companies, including ours, are complying with the law. The Department of Justice, for example, has announced that it’s starting a review of online platforms," Walker said in the Google blog.

He also called attention to Google's support of jobs and small businesses, and its spending on R&D to drive innovation in that statement.

"We have answered many questions on these issues over many years, in the United States as well as overseas, across many aspects of our business, so this is not new for us," Walker said.

Google was hit with a massive $5.05 billion fine from the European Union in July of 2018. The company violated antitrust rules by imposing "illegal restrictions" on Android device makers and mobile network operators, allegedly aimed at bolstering Google's search engine, the EU concluded in a decision that's been appealed.

A few months later, in October of 2018, Makan Delrahim, the U.S. assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, told a Senate committee he couldn't rule out the possibility of an inquiry into Google's Android business.

Earlier this summer, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, an Irish regulatory body that serves as the European Union's watchdog for upholding personal data protections, said it would examine whether Google Ad Exchange tracked users or stored data in violation of the GDPR law that went into effect one year ago.

The European Union’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, wouldn’t rule out European regulators breaking up Google, in comments she made in March of 2018.

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