Facebook, Google and other big tech giants are about to face a ‘reckoning,’ state attorneys general warn.
It would seem that the gloves are off, as some of America’s most prolific attorneys general indicate their willingness to take on super-size tech companies, including Google and Facebook, as fears grow concerning mass collection of consumers’ personal information.
Law enforcement officials across the U.S. agree that way too much personal data is being harvested and used in ways that increasingly puts peoples’ privacy at risk and undermines competition.
According to the Washington Post, Attorney General, Jeff Landry, REP-LA, was quoted as saying:
“I think what we’ve found is that big tech has become too big, and that while we may have been asleep at the wheel, they were able to consolidate a tremendous amount of power,”
Ultimately, the responsibility for monitoring the commercial goings-on of big tech companies lies with federal regulators. They, more than anyone, have the power to impose appropriate penalties for privacy violations, as well as regulate monopolies in the public interest. However, some critics say that Washington is partially to blame for the recent spate of privacy related scandals. Meanwhile, Congress continues to struggle to create a federal law to combat the data collection practices of tech giants like Facebook and Google.
So far, it has been down to individual states like Arizona and Mississippi to set an example, by responding to the growing threat of privacy violations, by moving in on Google for the way it vacuums up and profits from users’ personal data.
Must be held accountable
Another example is the South Carolina District of Columbia, which recently challenged Facebook’s business practices in court. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine opposed the social network’s request to have a consumer-protection lawsuit thrown out, saying:
“Facebook Inc. must be held accountable for misleading District of Columbia users about its information-sharing practices”.
Bloomberg reports that Racine is demanding the social network turn over information on its integration and data-sharing partnership details; names of third-party applications that violated Facebook data policies; and disclose the actions it took to police those policies.
Landry added that there are “numerous bipartisan discussions” among both Democrats and Republicans concerning other areas where attorneys general can coordinate their attention on big tech.
Phil Weiser, Attorney General for Colorado, DEM-CO, said:
“We are in a moment where the federal government’s level of effectiveness and engagement on a range of issues, on technology, consumer protection and privacy, is limited,”
Commenting on the criticisms, Facebook’s VP of state and local public policy, Will Castleberry, said in a statement that the company has had “productive conversations” with state AGs.
“Many officials have approached us in a constructive manner, focused on solutions that ensure all companies are protecting people’s information, and we look forward to working with them,”
Last week in Washington, state officials attended a series of events including an annual forum with the National Association of Attorneys General (“NAAG”). Delegates voiced concerns about the tech industry’s data privacy practices.
A number of attorneys general across the U.S. are eyeballing Google, with deep concerns that tech giant is holding too much data about consumers, giving Google an unfair advantage over other players within the online services and advertising sector.
Calls for stronger antitrust enforcement
In 2003, having investigated Google, federal regulators decided against breaking up the company — a move which flew in the face of some states calling for stronger antitrust enforcement. Arizona’s GOP attorney general, Mark Brnovich, started an investigation into Google’s data collection practices in 2018.
Earlier this month, Brnovich restated his concerns about Google’s use of location tracking, which captures data from Android devices. Also, at a hearing last week, entitled GDPR & CCPA: Opt-ins, Consumer Control, and the Impact on Competition and Innovation, Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., spent several minutes grilling Google’s senior privacy counsel, Will DeVries, on whether Google’s practices met with consumer expectations.
When asked if there should be an antitrust probe of Google, Brnovich replied “maybe” and added:
“I think there are a lot of us in the AG world that are collecting information, trying to get documents, and trying to get to the bottom of whether that’s a reasonable step or a reasonable option.”
Prior to his appointment as Minnesota’s attorney general, Democrat Keith Ellison has also argued for the federal government to conduct an antitrust probe of the tech giant. Meanwhile, in Missouri, state officials commenced an all-inclusive antitrust and privacy investigation into Google, at the instruction of former AG, Josh Hawley.
And last week, Louisiana’s Landry blasted Google for being “more and more manipulative” with its search results, while Mississippi’s AG, Jim Hood has sued the company for its mishandling of students’ data. The two sides have relentlessly battled each other, with Hood faulting Google for trying to “send a message to other states that we will sue you.”
Hood said: “You cannot allow this power to accumulate in the hands of this few people,” “At some point, there’s going to have to be a reckoning for it.”