US Antitrust Authorities to Investigate Google And Facebook

The tech giants face growing scrutiny as authorities question how users' data is leveraged to display ads.

Two groups of US state attorneys general announced antitrust investigations of Facebook and Google, on Friday, to probe whether the internet giants have unfairly leveraged their services to dominate the online advertising market.

With seven other states, New York and the District of Columbia will investigate “whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk,” said Letitia James, New York Attorney General. “The largest social media platform in the world must follow the law,” James tweeted.

The other states attorneys general joining the action included Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee.

Facebook’s vice president for state and local policy, Will Castleberry, said the company would work constructively alongside the authorities. “People have multiple choices for every one of the services we provide,” he said. “We understand that if we stop innovating, people can easily leave our platform. This underscores the competition we face, not only in the United States but around the globe.”

Second coalition targets Google

Another coalition of states, led by Texas and announced by the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, is set to launch an antitrust probe into “whether large tech companies have engaged in anti-competitive behaviour that stifled competition, restricted access, and harmed consumers.” The investigation will reportedly target Google in particular and will likely include up to 40 other states.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., said it had received a civil investigative demand from the US Department of Justice at the end of August requesting documents relating to previous antitrust investigations against it in the United States and elsewhere.

File Photo: A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display in this illustration taken in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, December 16, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

“We expect to receive in the future similar investigative demands from state attorneys general,” Alphabet said. The tech company confirmed that it would continue its cooperation with the Department of Justice.

Scrutiny from all sides

Earlier this year in June, the US Department of Justice announced a “review” of major online platforms to examine whether they have stifled innovation of diminished competition.

Facebook and Google are two of the largest tech companies in the world, with billions using their services. The internet giants target users for their personal data, which can contribute to and enhance the power of the companies. Regulators are exploring whether the firms used their market power to squeeze out competition.

Also read: Facebook Allows Users to Opt Out of Face Recognition, Discontinues ‘Tag Suggestions’

The probes mark a widening in the scope of scrutiny the tech giants are facing beyond federal and congressional investigations into their market dominance.

Facebook is currently facing a number of ongoing investigations and legal threats, including from the US Department of Justice, the US Federal Trade Commission, the Irish Data Protection Commission, and the US Congress.

The new probe “shows how unease with large tech companies is spreading beyond Congress and the federal government agencies to the states,” said Michael Carrier, professor of antitrust law at Rutgers University. “With each passing day, there are greater fears about these companies controlling our online lives.”

This article was first published in DW.