Attorneys General from 8 States and District of Columbia Launch Facebook Antitrust Investigation with Bipartisan Coalition

ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL KWAME RAOUL NOT PART OF COALITION


Attorneys general from eight states and both major parties have launched an antitrust investigation against the social media giant Facebook. Anne Makovec reports.

The attorneys general of eight states and the District of Columbia are launching an antitrust investigation into Facebook (FB), New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Friday, September 6, 2019, confirming the bipartisan coalition she’s leading investigating social media giant Facebook for antitrust issues.

“Even the largest social media platform in the world must follow the law and respect consumers. I am proud to be leading a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in investigating whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk. We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.”

— Letitia James, NY Attorney General

The investigation is expected to focus on Facebook’s impact on advertising prices, data and consumer privacy and the company’s alleged stifling of competition with previous acquisitions, including Instagram and WhatsApp.

“I am proud to be leading a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in investigating whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk,” James said in a statement. “We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.”

The multi-state coalition includes Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee, according to New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Facebook replied with a statement that the social media giant will work “constructively” with the coalitions attorneys general.

“We welcome a conversation with policymakers about the competitive environment in which we operate,” said Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president of state and local policy.

A separate antitrust investigation is brewing that will target Google as a coalition dozens of states led by Texas is expected to be announced on September 9, 2019 near the US Supreme Court.

There is general concern that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google may be harming competition. The House Judiciary Committee has launched a “top-to-bottom” antitrust probe while the Department of Justice is conducting an antitrust review of the nation’s biggest tech companies.

Herbert Slatery III, Tennessee’s attorney general stated in June 2019 that “structural change driven by the government may well be necessary” to address some of the harms stemming from the tech industry.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry criticized Google for its dominance in online advertising, saying “Google gets to pick winners and losers because the system is rigged in their favor.” Landry said Google has the power to make it inefficient and inconvenient for advertisers to use any other platform. Landry said, “Continuing down this road will kill online publishing, or Google will control who stays and who goes.”

On Tuesday, September 3, 2019, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel announced an antitrust hearing involving technology companies with an analysis of corporate acquisitions by large platforms such as Facebook and Google.

Senator Mike Lee, a Republican who chairs the subcommitee, said in a statement that tech giants can often use those acquisitions to improve competition. But, he added, “they also run the risk of eliminating the very competition that may challenge the incumbent firm’s leading position in the future.”

Thursday, September 5, 2019 Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said that CEO Mark Zuckerberg should be held personally accountable for Facebook’s privacy violations. Wyden suggested a bill should be proposed to hold tech industry leaders personally responsible for damages resulting from breaches of users’ private information. “If [he] lied to the federal government about privacy policies, he would be held personally accountable … That could mean significant fines and the possibility of a prison terms,” said Wyden. “I think he has lied repeatedly in a way that hurts consumers.” Wyden’s statements regarding Zuckerberg, of course, are hypothetical since Zuckerberg couldn’t go to jail for a crime committed before bill was enacted.

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