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.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Missouri action and Thiel’s support of Hawley.
The company has been at the center of controversy over whether some of America’s most successful tech companies are monopolies and should be regulated or broken up. A New York Times op-ed in April asked, “Is It Time to Break Up Google?”
“We are going to have to decide fairly soon whether Google, Facebook and Amazon are the kinds of natural monopolies that need to be regulated,” wrote Jonathan Taplin, former director of USC’s Annenberg School of Innovation and author of “Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook, and Amazon Have Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy.”
In June, the European Union slapped Google with a $2.7 billion antitrust fine for favoring some of its services over competitors’. Google has said it was considering an appeal.
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.
This news organization has asked the Texas Attorney General’s office for information about the status of the Google investigation — this article will be updated if an answer is provided.
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.”
Thiel, a billionaire libertarian, previously used his ample financial resources to target a different company: media firm Gawker. Thiel funded a lawsuit by entertainer Hulk Hogan over a sex tape published on Gawker.com, which had earlier publicly outed Thiel as gay. The lawsuit brought about the website’s demise.
Thiel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.