Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who backed President Trump (just before giving his presidency a "50% chance of ending in disaster") and infamously helped Hulk Hogan bring down Gawker.com, has allegedly set his sights on a new target: Google. According to The Mercury News, suspicions about Thiel's next pet project were raised after he recently contributed $300,000 to Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley just before he launched an antitrust lawsuit against the alleged search monopoly.
So far, high-profile Silicon Valley venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel isn’t saying publicly why he gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign of a state attorney general who’s just launched an antitrust probe of Google.
But it’s not the first time Thiel has handed cash to an AG who went after Google over monopoly concerns.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Nov. 13 that his office was investigating Google to see if the Mountain View tech giant had violated the state’s antitrust and consumer-protection laws. The Missouri attorney general said he had issued an investigative subpoena to Google. He’s looking at the firm’s handling of users’ personal data, along with claims that it misappropriated content from rivals and pushed down competitors’ websites in search results.
In a press release posted to his website, Missouri AG Josh Hawley confirmed that he had issued an "investigative subpoena to Internet giant Google, Inc.," in an effort to determine whether the search giant had "violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act—Missouri’s principal consumer-protection statute—and Missouri’s antitrust laws."
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced today that his Office has issued an investigative subpoena to Internet giant Google, Inc., in connection with an investigation into the company’s business practices. Specifically, the investigation will seek to determine if Google has violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act—Missouri’s principal consumer-protection statute—and Missouri’s antitrust laws.
The business practices in question are 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.
“There is strong reason to believe that Google has not been acting with the best interest of Missourians in mind,” Hawley said. “My Office will not stand by and let private consumer information be jeopardized by industry giants, especially to pad their profits.”
In addition to online users’ location, device information, cookie data, online queries, and website history, it is estimated that Google has access to 70 percent of all card transactions in the United States.
“When a company has access to as much consumer information as Google does, it’s my duty to ensure they are using it appropriately,” Hawley said. “I will not let Missouri consumers and businesses be exploited by industry giants.”
Meanwhile, as Mercury News notes, Hawley isn't the only state attorney general to have received support from Thiel potentially related to their targeting of Google. Thiel also contributed to former Texas AG Greg Abbott after his office began investigating Google back in 2010.
In Missouri, Thiel put his money behind Hawley in 2015, with $100,000 contributed during Hawley’s campaign for the state attorney general’s seat, then added two more $100,000 donations to the campaign in 2016, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Hawley was sworn in on Jan. 9.
Hawley is not the only state attorney general to have probed Google over antitrust concerns. Former Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott began investigating Google in 2010. In 2013, Thiel donated $100,000 to Abbott, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
In response to Abbott’s probe, Google in 2010 said in a blog post that it was sometimes asked about the fairness of its search engine.
“Why do some websites get higher rankings than others?” the post said.
“The important thing to remember is that we built Google to provide the most useful, relevant search results and ads for users. In other words, our focus is on users, not websites. Given that not every website can be at the top of the results, or even appear on the first page of our results, it’s unsurprising that some less relevant, lower quality websites will be unhappy with their ranking.”
So is Google about to get 'Gawker'd' or has Thiel bitten off a little more than he can chew with this latest crusade?