Facebook, Google Face Multi-State Antitrust Regulations

The Latest from HLS Clinical Programs 2019-09-12

Via WBUR 

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images

A coalition of state attorneys general launch antitrust probes into Facebook and Google. They tell us why.

Guests

Phil Weiser, attorney general from Colorado. Served in the Obama Administration as a deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice. Served in President Clinton’s Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. (@pweiser)

James Tierney, founding director of StateAG.org, an educational resource on the office of state attorney general. Lecturer in law at Harvard Law School. Attorney General of Maine from 1980 to 1990.

Tim Wu, professor of law, science and technology at Columbia Law School. Author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.” Former senior adviser to the Federal Trade Commission for consumer protection and competitions issues that affect the internet and mobile markets. (@superwuster)

Stephen Houck, special counsel at Offit Kurman Attorneys at Law. Chief of the Antitrust Bureau at the New York State Attorney General’s Office from 1995 to 1999. Lead trial counsel for the 20 state plaintiffs in the government lawsuit against Microsoft. He’s on retainer with Google for general advisement about antitrust issues.

From The Reading List

Statement From Google

Google’s services create choice for consumers, and spur innovation in the U.S.

Kent Walker, SVP, Global Affairs

Google’s services help people, create more choice, and support thousands of jobs and small businesses across the United States. Google is one of America’s top spenders on research and development, making investments that spur innovation: Things that were science fiction a few years ago are now free for everyone—translating any language instantaneously, learning about objects by pointing your phone, getting an answer to pretty much any question you might have.

At the same time, it’s of course right that governments should have oversight to ensure that all successful companies, including ours, are complying with the law. The Department of Justice, for example, has announced that it’s starting a review of online platforms.

We have answered many questions on these issues over many years, in the United States as well as overseas, across many aspects of our business, so this is not new for us. The DOJ has asked us to provide information about these past investigations, and we expect state attorneys general will ask similar questions. We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so.

We look forward to showing how we are investing in innovation, providing services that people want, and engaging in robust and fair competition.

Facebook did not respond to requests for an interview or statement.

New York Times: “New Google and Facebook Inquiries Show Big Tech Scrutiny Is Rare Bipartisan Act” — “There is a major force uniting America’s fiercely partisan politicians: big technology companies. Democrats and Republicans at the federal and state levels are coming together to scrutinize the power of the Silicon Valley giants and, potentially, to rein them in.

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“Letitia James, the Democratic attorney general of New York, announced on Friday that attorneys general in eight states — four Democrats and four Republicans — and the District of Columbia had begun an antitrust investigation of Facebook.

“Next up for state regulators is Google. A similarly bipartisan group led by eight attorneys general is set to announce on Monday a separate but comparable investigation. The search giant is expected to be the focus of the inquiry, according to two people familiar with the plan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity before the official announcement. Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, a Republican, is taking a leading role in the Google investigation, the people said.

“The state inquiries coincide with bipartisan scrutiny of the tech giants in Washington, by House and Senate committees, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Federal officials are examining the practices of Amazon and Apple as well as those of Facebook and Google.”

Washington Post: “Facebook, Google face off against a formidable new foe: State attorneys general” — “The nation’s state attorneys general have tangled with mortgage lenders, tobacco giants and the makers of addictive drugs. Now, they’re setting their sights on another target: Big Tech.

“Following years of federal inaction, the state watchdogs are initiating sweeping antitrust investigations against Silicon Valley’s largest companies, probing whether they undermine rivals and harm consumers. Their latest salvo arrives Monday, when more than 40 attorneys general are expected to announce their plan to investigate Google, delivering a rare rebuke of the search-and-advertising giant — and its efforts to maintain that dominance — from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The states seek to probe allegations that the tech industry stifles start-ups, delivers pricier or worse service for Web users, and siphons too much personal information, enriching their record-breaking revenue at the cost of consumer privacy.”

Bloomberg: “FTC Chief Says He’s Willing to Break Up Big Tech Companies” — “The head of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said he’s prepared to break up major technology platforms if necessary by undoing their past mergers as his agency investigates whether companies including Facebook Inc. are harming competition.

“FTC Chairman Joe Simons, who is leading a broad review of the technology sector, said in an interview Tuesday that breaking up a company is challenging, but could be the right remedy to rein in dominant companies and restore competition.

“‘If you have to, you do it,; Simons said about breaking up tech companies. ‘It’s not ideal because it’s very messy. But if you have to you have to.’ “

New York Times: “How Each Big Tech Company May Be Targeted by Regulators” — “Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have been the envy of corporate America, admired for their size, influence and remarkable growth.

“Now that success is attracting a different kind of spotlight. In Washington, Brussels and beyond, regulators and lawmakers are investigating whether the four technology companies have used their size and wealth to quash competition and expand their dominance.

“The four firms are lumped together so often that they have become known as Big Tech. Their business models differ, as do the antitrust arguments against them. But those grievances have one thing in common: fear that too much power is in the hands of too few companies.

“The attorney general of New York, Letitia James, said Friday that the attorneys general in eight states — she and three other Democrats, plus four Republicans — and the District of Columbia had begun an antitrust investigation of Facebook.”

Allison Pohle produced this show for broadcast.

This program aired on September 10, 2019.