Google's Biggest Critics Enlist States in Their Fight ; Attorneys General Asked to Push for Censorship of Illegal Content and Sites

By Nick Wingfield; Eric Lipton | International New York Times, December 18, 2014 | Go to article overview

Google's Biggest Critics Enlist States in Their Fight ; Attorneys General Asked to Push for Censorship of Illegal Content and Sites


Nick Wingfield; Eric Lipton, International New York Times


Google's critics in the United States are turning to state attorneys general to push the company to censor illegal content and sites from search results.

They have lobbied state attorneys general. They have hired former state attorneys general. They have even helped draft a menacing letter for one state attorney general.

And they have given the target -- Google -- a code name: Goliath.

Google's detractors complain about the search giant to everyone they can, raising concerns about the company's dominance with regulators in Brussels and antitrust officials in Washington. In the United States, they are taking the fight into states, often to push Google to censor illegal content and sites from search results.

The inner workings of those efforts are outlined in emails obtained by The New York Times through open records requests. Other details are contained in messages stolen from Sony Pictures Entertainment by hackers and obtained by The Times through an industry executive. Some of the emails from Sony have been reported by The Verge, a website.

Together, the emails show the extent of the efforts with state attorneys general. The messages detail how the Motion Picture Association of America -- the Hollywood industry group -- and an organization backed by Microsoft and others have aggressively lobbied attorneys general to build cases against Google in recent years, sometimes in complementary ways. The movie association and its member companies, the messages show, have assigned a team of lawyers to prepare draft subpoenas and legal briefs for the attorneys general. And the groups have delivered campaign contributions -- with several movie studios sending checks -- to Jon Bruning, the Republican attorney general of Nebraska, who was helping push their cause, and who made an unsuccessful bid for governor this year.

State attorneys general have broad authority to investigate companies involved in practices that cause consumers harm. A year ago, Google paid a $17 million fine -- a tiny amount for the giant company -- spread among more than 30 states after an investigation related to an accusation that it had violated the privacy of certain Internet users.

Mr. Bruning and Jim Hood, Mississippi's attorney general, who has become one of the most active officials against Google, say they are simply trying to enforce the laws in their states. They say Google, one of the most powerful companies of the Internet era, is dragging its feet on complying with their requests to filter illegal Internet pharmacies and other illicit content from its search results.

"These guys have profited from illegal activity that they promoted in their search engines for years," Mr. Bruning said in an interview on Tuesday. "There is a culture at Google of sell anything to anyone. By no means do they wear the white hat in this debate."

But as far as Google is concerned, the attorneys general, the film group and Microsoft have a similar interest: to interfere in Google's business. Movie studios have long complained that Google does not do enough to get rid of links to pirated film and television shows online. Illegal copies of their content on YouTube, a Google property, are another complaint.

By pushing the attorneys general to block illegal sales of pharmaceuticals on Google, the movie industry has concluded, they could use the same powers to curb the distribution of pirated goods. For Microsoft, any limits on Google might help it improve the fortunes of its struggling search engine, Bing.

"As a trade association, our primary objective is to protect our members and their creative works -- employing voluntary initiatives, policy solutions and legal actions," said Kate Bedingfield, an M. …

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