Nearly every state attorney general joins Facebook antitrust investigation

Nearly every state attorney general joins Facebook antitrust investigation
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Forty-seven attorneys general have joined onto the recently announced antitrust investigation into Facebook, the New York attorney general's office announced Tuesday, super-charging a probe that comes amid broader scrutiny of Big Tech by the U.S. government.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that a broad range of states, represented by both Democratic and Republican attorneys general, will participate in probing Facebook's market dominance and business practices over the next several months. 

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The investigation has grown significantly since James launched the probe in June with then just seven other attorneys general. 

"After continued bipartisan conversations with attorneys general from around the country, today I am announcing that we have vastly expanded the list of states, districts, and territories investigating Facebook for potential antitrust violations," James said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Our investigation now has the support of 47 attorneys general from around the nation, who are all concerned that Facebook may have put consumer data at risk, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, and increased the price of advertising," she said. "As we continue our investigation, we will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions stifled competition and put users at risk.”

The Facebook investigation is ramping up alongside a multistate probe of Google, another Silicon Valley giant that has attracted widespread scrutiny over its treatment of user data and smaller competitors.

In September, a coalition of 50 attorneys general stood in front of the Supreme Court to officially announce they are investigating Google for potential violations of antitrust law. 

Both state probes could potentially culminate in aggressive legal challenges to the companies' market dominance. 

California, where Google and Facebook's headquarters are located, has notably stayed out of both the Facebook and Google antitrust investigations so far. Earlier this month, California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraT-Mobile, Sprint complete merger Overnight Energy: Court upholds Trump repeal of Obama fracking rule | Oil price drop threatens fracking boom | EPA eases rules on gasoline sales amid coronavirus Court OKs Trump repeal of Obama public lands fracking rule MORE told reporters that his office does not publicly announce ongoing probes.

"How do you know we’re not investigating?" Becerra asked. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is conducting a wide-ranging review of Big Tech over antitrust concerns, and the Federal Trade Commission is building out its resources as it investigates companies including Facebook and Amazon. 

Each of the investigations is currently following a separate track, but the regulators and states will have to confer increasingly to ensure they are not building identical cases. 

"Big Tech must account for its actions," Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, said in a statement on Tuesday. "I am proud to join my Republican and Democrat colleagues in efforts to ensure Tech Giants can no longer hide behind complexity and complicity.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), who is leading the Google probe, has also joined onto the Facebook investigation. 

Facebook has vowed to cooperate with the investigation, but pushes back on any implication that it functions as a social media or digital advertising monopoly. 

"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 when the antitrust probe was launched. "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.”