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Hawley seeks information on Google's data collection practices — and search preferences

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley shares evidence included in a motion to dismiss Backpage's lawsuit against him.
File photo I Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is issuing an investigative subpoena on Monday looking into Google's business practices.

Missouri’s attorney general is trying to find out if Google has violated the state’s antitrust and consumer protection laws.

Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Monday that he is issuing a subpoena to the tech giant. Among other things, the Republican official wants to see how the tech giant is gathering personal information from users.  According to a news release, he also wants to know if Google is manipulating its search algorithm to “preference websites owned by Google and to demote websites that compete with Google.” 

Hawley said it’s important to find out how Google handles sensitive information – especially after large companies like Equifax recently suffered massive data breaches. 

“Whether that’s the Google search engine, Google mail, Google flights, Google shopping – Google is ubiquitous,” Hawley said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio. “Their market power is absolutely enormous. And of course, the data it collects is vast ... and affects millions of Missourians.”  

In a statement, Google spokesman Patrick Lenihan said that his company has not yet received Hawley’s subpoena.

"However, we have strong privacy protections in place for our users and continue to operate in a highly competitive and dynamic environment,” Lenihan said. 

If Google doesn’t respond to his office’s subpoena, Hawley said he is willing to take the company to court. He said a similar situation unfolded when he tried to get information from Backpage.com, which led to a “major court battle” with the company.

“This is not a ‘Dear Google’ letter,” he said. “This is a legally-binding demand that they have an obligation to comply with.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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