As many as 48 American states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, opened an antitrust investigation on Monday into Google, reported Reuters. The probe was started due to allegations that the search engine giant may have indulged in anti-competitive behaviour because of its control over online markets and search traffic.

California and Alabama refused to be part of the inquiry. Other states asked Google to provide documents on its advertising business, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is heading the inquiry, said. Other attorney generals described the investigation as preliminary, and said it could be expanded to include matters such as data privacy.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge called Google’s search engine a “juggernaut”. He said that Google’s free search sometimes leads to lack of freedom to choose the best products from the best companies. “When a company becomes a verb, it may seem as though the states are David taking on Goliath but I am proud to stand tall with my fellow attorneys general,” Rutledge said.

“When there is no longer a free market or competition, this increases prices, even when something is marketed as free, and harms consumers,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said, according to CNBC. “Is something really free if we are increasingly giving over our privacy information? Is something really free if online ad prices go up based on one company’s control?”

A spokesperson for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the state was committed to fighting anti-competitive behaviour by companies, but declined to comment further, “to protect the integrity of potential and ongoing investigations”.

The announcement of a probe did not significantly hurt the share prices of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. On Monday, the company’s stock closed just $1.05 down at $1205.27 on the NASDAQ.

A separate group of eight state attorneys general, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, has began an antitrust probe into Facebook.

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