Coalition of attorneys general launches antitrust investigation into Facebook

Coalition of attorneys general launches antitrust investigation into Facebook
© Getty Images

A coalition of eight attorneys general has launched an investigation into Facebook over potential antitrust violations, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Friday.

The bipartisan group of state attorneys general, led by New York's, is probing Facebook's dominance in social media and any potential "anticompetitive conduct" the company has engaged in.

The probe heightens the stakes for the embattled social media platform, which is already weathering antitrust investigations from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.  

ADVERTISEMENT

Last month, Facebook agreed to pay a record-shattering $5 billion as part of a settlement with the FTC over charges of privacy violations. Now, the state attorneys general say they will look into whether Facebook's position may have allowed the company to take advantage of its customers or advertisers.

"Even the largest social media platform in the world must follow the law and respect consumers," James said in a statement. "I am proud to be leading a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in investigating whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk." 

"We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising," she said.

The state attorneys general from Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee, as well as Washington, D.C., are participating in the investigation.

In a statement, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said the district "joined this investigation to ensure Facebook is giving a fair shake to District residents and the American people." 

"No company gets a pass if it throttles competitors and exploits consumers," Racine said.

Facebook owns three of the top communications platforms in the world: Instagram and WhatsApp as well as the Facebook platform. As of June, Facebook had over 2.41 billion monthly active users.

The tech giant acquired mega-popular messaging app WhatsApp in 2014 and image-sharing platform Instagram in 2012. Facebook currently is working to knit together the messaging features of all three apps, a move that would make them much harder to unwind.

Critics have raised concerns over Facebook's dominance in social media and online advertising, claiming the company has gobbled up smaller competitors and made it difficult for other services to enter the digital landscape. 

In a statement, Facebook said it faces competition for all of the services it offers.

"People have multiple choices for every one of the services we provide," Will Castleberry, Facebook's vice president of state and local policy, said in a statement. "We understand that if we stop innovating, people can easily leave our platform. This underscores the competition we face, not only in the US but around the globe."

"We will of course work constructively with state attorneys general," Castleberry said. "And we welcome a conversation with policymakers about the competitive environment in which we operate.”

Facebook and Google are widely known as the "digital duopoly" of the online advertising ecosystem, with some estimates finding the two companies command nearly 60 percent of the internet ad market.

The state attorneys general, federal agencies and lawmakers are all working on separate efforts to investigate those concerns around the largest tech companies — including Facebook, Google and Amazon — which could result in limitations on their business practices or even tweaks to antitrust law, which is decades old and some say could be unequipped to take on modern tech companies.

The other state attorneys general involved in the probe did not immediately respond to The Hill's requests for comment.

On Monday, another group of state attorneys general is expected to announce an antitrust investigation into Google.

--Updated at 11:49 a.m.