Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate potential anti-competitive effects in Google’s search and digital advertising practices shortly after President Donald Trump made several unfounded or false claims about anti-conservative bias on Google search.
Hatch sent FTC chairman Joseph Simons a letter today in which he expressed concern about “recent reports on Google’s search and digital advertising practices.” Hatch’s letter cites a variety of “disquieting” reports. He mentions a May 60 Minutes segment that highlighted Google’s massive size and power over other web companies, as well as a July controversy over third-party app developers who were given access to Gmail message content. He also mentioned that Google has “decided to remove from its platforms legal businesses that the company apparently does not agree with” — which could be a reference to Google blocking gun sales from its shopping platform, blocking ads from disreputable drug and alcohol treatment centers, or simply banning YouTube channels.
European Union antitrust regulators fined Google $5 billion last month for abusing its Android market dominance, and Hatch has previously asked the FTC about its interest in following up on the EU’s Google investigations. He’s far from the only lawmaker who’s critical of Google’s potentially monopolistic power. But Hatch has also defended Google against what he called the “lazy mantra that big is bad,” claiming progressive arguments for some tech antitrust cases were “more politically motivated than economically sound.”
And the timing of this letter hits extremely close to Trump’s repeated attacks on Google. Early this week, Trump claimed without evidence that the company’s search engine was artificially promoting “left-wing media” and suppressing positive stories. He later said that Google and other platforms were “trying to silence a very large part of this country,” then promoted a video that falsely claimed Google had promoted President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address but not Trump’s. While Hatch doesn’t mention any of these charges, his timing seems linked to the current added scrutiny on Google.
Ironically, Trump defended Google against the EU, calling Google “one of our great companies” and claiming European countries “truly have taken advantage of the US” with the $5 billion fine. The FTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.