Tech Giants Antitrust States

FILE - In this June 11, 2019 file photo, New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference in New York. James says a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general is investigating Facebook for alleged antitrust issues. James said Friday, Sept. 6, the probe will look into whether Facebook's actions endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers' choices or increased the price of advertising. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

WASHINGTON — Two groups of states are targeting Facebook and Google in separate antitrust probes, widening the scrutiny of Big Tech beyond sweeping federal and congressional investigations into their market dominance.

Facebook and Google are two of the world’s largest and most ubiquitous tech companies. The billions who use their services for making social media posts, uploading videos or searching ads are targeted by the tech companies for their personal data — a prized asset that enhances the companies’ power. Regulators are examining whether the companies have used their market power to crimp competition, potentially raising prices and hurting consumers.

Dissatisfaction with what federal authorities have done so far may be pushing some states to band together to run their own investigations, possibly eyeing more aggressive sanctions. The Federal Trade Commission’s recent $5 billion fine against Facebook over privacy violations, for example, was criticized by consumer advocates and a number of public officials as being too lenient.

“The states see it as part of their role to fill a vacuum,” said Jay Himes, an antitrust lawyer in New York. Himes, a former head of the antitrust bureau in the New York attorney general’s office, worked on the states’ antitrust case against Microsoft about 20 years ago.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said Friday her probe will look into Facebook’s dominance and any resulting anticompetitive conduct.

A separate group of state attorneys general is announcing Monday in Washington the launch of an investigation into “whether large tech companies have engaged in anticompetitive behavior that stifled competition, restricted access and harmed consumers,” an advisory from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Friday. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, citing sources they didn’t identify, have reported that target will be Google.

Both groups of state attorneys general include Democrats and Republicans. Joining James, a Democrat, in the Facebook investigation are the attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and the District of Columbia.

With some 2.4 billion users around the globe and a huge social media presence, Facebook has sparked outrage with a series of privacy scandals and its use by Russian operatives in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Even the largest social media platform in the world must follow the law and respect consumers,” James said. 

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