(Original air date: November 3, 2019)
The following is a transcript of an investigative report on Full Measure News. Click on the link at the end of the transcript to watch the video story.
As Congress turns up the heat on companies like Facebook.. they’re facing added pressure. Nearly every state has now joined an anti-trust investigation that could threaten the way the tech giants do business. Lisa Fletcher talks with the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Karl Racine.
Karl Racine: When you have 50 state attorney general focused on a very successful, large, and powerful company like Google, it's a big deal.
DC Attorney General Karl Racine says he and his counterparts are throwing their full weight behind an investigation into how Google is using its power- and whether its Internet dominance of searching and advertising is harming competition and consumers.
Lisa: Why mobilize Attorneys General when the Feds are already launching an investigation?
AG Racine: That company has so much data and information about its consumers that has tremendous value to marketers, that it's quite normal for us to want to understand what is the impact of such a powerful company, having such powerfulcommodity - that is information - about consumers in the business place.
As the heat turns up - whether from investigations or questions over hacking scandals and data breaches, watchdog groups say so does the spending by the Big 4 - to exert influence in Washington. In the past 9 years, lobbying by Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple - often referred to as the Big 4 - has skyrocketed from just $7.5 million in 2009 to $55.4 million in 2018.
Lisa: So, basically these companies are counting on politicians remembering where the money is coming from. How do you compete with that?
AG Racine: Well, I think 50 state AGs, with subpoena power and a commitment to do right by their consumers is ample competition for hordes of lobbyists and lawyers.
The FTC recently settled with Facebook for $5 billion over how the company utilizes user data, and slapped Google with a $170 million penalty for collecting information on children without their parent's consent.
For their part, the tech companies say they've moved quickly to address data and privacy concerns. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg told Congress they've learned from their mistakes.
Mark Zuckerberg: It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.
Lisa: Some have suggested that a good solution for consumers is actually a breakup of these companies, similar to oil companies a hundred years ago, or Ma Bell in the 80's.
AG Racine: You do mention the breakup of Standard Oil. I want to remind you that that was an Attorney General led action that resulted in that breakup. This could go to that level but let’s follow the facts and see where we are after we review the facts.
Facebook faces as many as four antitrust probes between the states, Congress and federal agencies.