Is Peter Thiel, supporter of underdogs, taking on Google?

By Business Leaders FOXBusiness

Google antitrust probe launched by Missouri attorney general

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley discusses the antitrust probe into Google that he's launching, and whether there may be a lawsuit to follow.

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel made his billions by backing some of the world’s biggest companies including PayPal (PYPL) and Facebook (FB).

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He’s also a quiet backer of underdogs. As an early and staunch supporter of President Trump, he broke from the Silicon Valley elite majority who supported Hillary Clinton in the with-us-or-against-us 2016 election. And he took on media site Gawker, now defunct, by privately funding former pro-wrestler Hulk Hogan’s [whose real name is Terry Bollea] privacy suit over the publication of a sex tape in 2012. In 2016, a jury awarded Bollea a total of $140 million in damages, but the two sides eventually reached a settlement of around $30 million. As a result, Gawker is no more. The suit followed Gawker’s outing of Thiel, who is gay. In a New York Times Opinion piece, Thiel discussed the need for “moral limits”.

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Now, Alphabet (GOOGL) subsidiary Google may be his next target. Thiel donated $300,000 from 2015-2016, per campaign finance filings viewed by FOX Business, to Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is leading an anti-trust probe into alleged anti-competitive practices by the search giant.

“I want to know what kind of personal, private, confidential information that Google collects from its users,” said Hawley during an interview Wednesday on FOX Business’ “Cavuto: Coast to Coast.” Hawley, a Republican seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill in next year's elections, added, “I also want to know, are they taking information from competitors and benefiting from that, misappropriating information from competitors and then are they manipulating the results of their searches in order to benefit their own businesses and websites and other affiliated sites?”

Hawley’s relationship with Thiel is unclear, when asked to clarify, Loree Anne Paradise, Deputy Chief of Staff told FOX Business via a statement, “Our office is investigating Google because we refuse to allow industry giants to exploit and jeopardize Missouri consumers and businesses.” She did confirm that Thiel is not involved in the state’s probe of the tech-giant. 

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FOX Business’ inquiries to Thiel were not returned at the time of publication. In his 2014 book “Zero to One” the venture capitalist noted Google’s size and dominance is largely unchallenged.

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Hawley is the only state AG currently pursuing an anti-trust investigation into Google.  Overseas is a different story. The European Union levied a record $2.8 billion fine against Google over its shopping comparison product. The EU is continuing its probe into the company, according to Reuters.

These fines can impact the bottom line. In July, Ruth Porat, CFO of Alphabet and Google, acknowledged the fine impacted 2Q net income. The company earned $3.52 billion, down 28% from the year-ago quarter of $4.87 billion, per the company’s earnings report. Google did not respond to FOX Business’ request for comment at the time of publication.

Thiel’s campaign contributions were first reported by Bloomberg News. 

Suzanne O’Halloran is Managing Editor of FOXBusiness.com and a graduate of Boston College. Follow her on @suzohalloran