Yelp's Google Complaint Needs U.S. Action, Mississippi Says

(Bloomberg) -- As the debate simmers in Washington over whether internet companies have gotten too powerful, the Mississippi attorney general has thrown his weight behind allegations by Yelp Inc. against Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

Mississippi’s Democratic attorney general, Jim Hood, urged the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in an Oct. 31 letter to "take prompt action to investigate" a complaint Yelp filed with the agency in September. Yelp told the FTC the search giant continues to scrape and use its content in violation of commitments it made in 2013 when the agency closed an investigation into its practices. 

The website that compiles user reviews of restaurants and other local businesses is waging a years-long battle to keep from being eclipsed by Google.

"The ability to access information about local businesses’ hours, services, and customer ratings has become an integral part of the competitive process that allows Mississippi consumers to identify and patronize local businesses that best meet their needs," Hood wrote to Acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen in the letter, which his office provided. "I am deeply troubled by the suggestion that Google is, despite its legally binding prior commitments, continuing to inhibit its competitors in local search."

Google said in an emailed statement from spokesman Patrick Lenihan that as soon as it heard about Yelp’s claim, "we took immediate steps to look at and address any issue, as we would have had they come to us directly." He said Google continues "to stand by our commitments to the FTC."

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on the letter.

Investigated Google

Hood has tangled with Google before. In 2014, he investigated Google and its video sharing site YouTube over whether it adequately screened illegal drug advertisements and illicit online videos.

Hood also sued Google in January over student privacy. The case is ongoing in Lowndes County Chancery Court, his office said.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, said Monday that he is investigating whether Google manipulates search results to benefit its own products over its competitors. That question has gotten scant attention at the federal level after the FTC closed its probe in 2013.

Some U.S. politicians and academics are posing questions more forcefully about whether antitrust laws should be changed or brought to bear in a new way against the tech giants as Google, Inc., Facebook Inc. and other tech companies become more powerful.

Multiple states settled with the company in 2013 over data collection in Google’s Street View mapping project, and again later in the year over the treatment of privacy settings.

In Europe, where antitrust law has been wielded much more aggressively, Google was fined 2.4 billion euros ($2.8 billion) last June, and the European Union is investigating Google over its Android mobile platform and its AdSense for Search service.

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