Springfield News-Leader: Hawley taking Missouri for a ride with Google investigation

Attorney General Josh Hawley is taking Missouri voters for a ride in his recent crusade against tech giant Google. Hawley recently received quite a bit of press when he launched an investigation into Google’s business practices.

The premise of which being:

"Google’s collection, use, and disclosure of information about Google users and their online activities, Google’s alleged misappropriation of online content from the websites of its competitors, and Google’s alleged manipulation of search results to preference websites owned by Google and to demote websites that compete with Google."

That would be all well and good except for the fact that these issues have already been looked into by U.S. federal antitrust regulators. After a 19-month investigation probing Google’s business practices, the Federal Trade Commission came up virtually empty-handed and chose not to bring charges against the tech giant.

Hawley is using the office of AG to score political points and generate press coverage for his Senate campaign, and the citizens of Missouri deserve better. It’s another example of a politician talking loudly behind a podium while doing relatively little to actually solve problems and improve the lives of their constituents.

Not only is Hawley brazenly attacking Google to promote his campaign, but he’s demonstrating a fundamental lack of understanding of free market principles. It is wrong to suggest that the government should be stepping in and forcing Google to change their results and how they manage the info we give them. Conservatives are for limited government, free markets, and less regulation. Do they not teach economics at Yale? If Google is giving its own websites/products special treatment in search results… so what? If Hawley’s (very) brief tenure as AG is a preview of what we might see from him in the senate, it’s clear he represents more of the same.

Hawley is implying that Google is being unfair when it comes to what it deems as “better” search results. “Better” is entirely subjective when it comes to things like which sites have “better” information on a topic you are searching, or which hotel price aggregator has “better” results. Google appears to be well within their rights to promote their own services over the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia and the like, because in Google’s opinion, their results are “better.” It’s a free service, and there are other search engines available for anyone to use. 

Google, which unquestionably improves the lives of billions of people everyday, provides a free search engine, free maps and navigation tools, free office productivity software (e.g. Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, etc.), the list goes on and on. In fact, on my campaign we use a number of those free services, and we’re grateful to have them.

The fact that it’s becoming more and more popular to vilify Google and call for increased regulation of the company -- and the technology sector in general -- doesn’t make it right, and it certainly doesn’t make it conservative. Hawley is ostensibly calling for conservatives to abandon free market principles to save the free market.

In addition to the betrayal of market principles, it appears like he’s doling out political favors to a big campaign donor, Peter Thiel, who gave his AG campaign $300,000. As a board member of Facebook and Palantir, two direct competitors of Google, Thiel stands to gain when Google takes a hit. He has also previously donated to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who brought an antitrust action against Google as Texas attorney general in 2010. We don’t want somebody beholden to big donors in office. We don’t want pay-to-play politics to be the way D.C. works anymore. We want politicians who were chosen by and beholden to the people. Missouri deserves better.

This Op-Ed appeared in the Springfield News-Leader on November 17, 2017.