Watch Matthew Mitchell's interview with WHO TV here.
In the first nine days of September, various attorneys general from across the United States revealed antitrust investigations into Facebook and Google. The Sept. 6 probe into Facebook by eight attorneys general (including Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller) is expected to focus on Facebook’s impact on advertising prices, data and consumer privacy, and the company’s previous acquisitions. On Sept. 9, a group of 50 attorneys general from 48 states (also including Iowa) opened a major antitrust investigation into Google to examine its search dominance, advertising, and other businesses, although it could expand from there. The investigations into the digital technology giants signal a growing concern for privacy and consumer protection.
Each of these newly opened investigations follows a broader inquiry into leading online platforms by the Department of Justice and the creation of a task force dedicated to monitoring competition in U.S. technology markets by the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition. The Justice Department said it would review “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.” Currently, Facebook dominates social network platforms with more than 2 billion users worldwide, and it frequently acquires new companies such as Instagram and WhatsApp, potentially stifling innovation. Google similarly dominates as more than 90% of internet searches and 38% of internet advertising is conducted on the platform. Together, Facebook and Google control nearly 60% of all advertising dollars.
The coalition among attorneys general to create a probe is not surprising because upholding antitrust regulations constitutes a bipartisan interest. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have repeatedly questioned the big tech giants over competition, privacy, and control over content. In addition to attorneys general and lawmakers, Republican President Donald Trump and 2020 Democratic presidential candidates including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have stated that they would increase scrutiny of big tech, even going so far as threatening to break up the companies.
While some are in favor of breaking up big tech like Google and Facebook, digital technology industry leaders such as Bill Gates reject the idea. Gates stated in an interview with Bloomberg on Sept. 17 that breaking up companies is not the way to go; rather, he said, “if there is a way a company is behaving that you want to get rid of, you should say that is a banned behavior.” Furthermore, he said that he believes the companies are “behaving totally legally” and are “doing a lot of innovative things.” By Gates’ judgement, the two tech firms are not in violation of antitrust law for which they are currently being investigated.
The outcome of these investigations will be important for Google and Facebook users worldwide who are influenced on what to buy, what information is seen, and how people communicate.
“This is a global phenomenon,” said Partner Matthew Mitchell in an WHO TV interview on Sept. 15. “It doesn’t only apply to U.S. citizens—it applies to citizens and consumers all over the world.”