There is nothing very intimidating about Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, the 38-year-old grandson of a farmer with a slight frame, affable personality and constant smile. He’s a package filled with grace not heat.
But beware the silent warrior. Like David taking on Goliath, Hawley is going after Google — a company so entrenched in our lives, it knows how we shop, where we travel, what we read and, thanks to our calendars, what we’re up to every single day of our lives.
A single company holding such an awesome amount of power deserves scrutiny, says Hawley, who served in private practice and as a law clerk at the US Supreme Court before becoming AG.
So, in November of last year, the father of two launched an investigation to find out if Google is violating antitrust laws to crush its competitors.
“Someone at some point has to take a stand and ask the hard question, ‘What exactly is it that Google is doing with our personal information?’ ” Hawley told The Post. “It’s time somebody held them accountable for the information they are collecting and how they are using it.”
Search-engine companies like Google make the majority of their money through advertising. Hawley wants to know how Google collects and uses its customers’ private information, and if they bias search-engine results to hurt or bury other content providers’ information and advertising. Last summer the European Commission hit Google with a record $2.7 billion fine for unfairly favoring their own services over those of competitors.
Right now, Hawley’s probe is the first against Google in the US, but as more tech titans such as Facebook come under fire for their misuse of customer data, it likely won’t be the last.
“One of my concerns is that they are not telling consumers exactly what it is they’re collecting and then selling it to third parties,” Hawley said. “I just want the facts. I want to know where our information is going.”
His crusade is reminiscent of 100 years ago when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of breaking up Standard Oil, which then controlled 90 percent of the US oil industry. Google’s dominance is not that different. Its market share of the search-engine industry is also about 90 percent.
Tech companies’ imprint on our lives is so massive that we sometimes forget how reliant we are on them until we learn about the potentially disastrous results. Last week, it emerged that Facebook allowed a political data firm to harvest private information from more than 50 million users without letting them know, which would be a violation of a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. And a violation of consumer trust.