State officials expressed concerns about technology giants’ market dominance and user-privacy practices at a meeting Tuesday hosted by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with some indicating they would be open to pursuing joint investigations of companies such as Google and Facebook Inc.
One attendee, Republican Attorney General Doug Peterson of Nebraska, said officials would look at the possibility of a formal multistate investigation of major tech platforms, focusing on both consumer-protection issues such as privacy and potential antitrust concerns.
“There’s certainly enough interest expressed by the attorneys general who were there today, and I think [we] will continue to move forward,” Mr. Peterson said in an interview.
Google and Facebook declined to comment.
Tech giants have faced growing calls for oversight amid bipartisan worries about the companies’ size and influence. Any moves by the states would open another regulatory battlefront.
The Justice Department said the discussion focused on consumer protection and data privacy issues, and that many of the participants “shared the view that it is essential for federal and state law enforcement authorities to work together to ensure that these challenges are addressed responsibly and effectively.”
The Justice Department said it would review the information shared by the state attorneys general and “expects this dialogue will continue in the near future,” although no future federal-state meetings were announced. In all, nine states’ attorneys general attended the meeting in person or by phone, along with representatives of five other states.
State participants stopped short of saying a joint federal-state investigation would commence, but several state attorneys general said the issues deserve more attention.
“There are growing concerns that the [tech] sector is moving in spaces that most people couldn’t have thought of or imagined,” particularly in use of personal data, Xavier Becerra, California’s Democratic attorney general, said in a meeting with reporters afterward. “I walked out of that meeting believing there’s reason to continue the conversation.”
Karl Racine, the Democratic attorney general of the District of Columbia, said the officials likely will focus on data concerns “with an increasing degree of interest.” He also predicted that the dialogue represents “the early stages of antitrust consideration.”
Mr. Racine has previously supported a reopening of a closed antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission into Google.
Attorneys general aren’t the only ones concerned about strengthening online consumer protections. On Tuesday, the Trump administration released a framework for improving data-privacy practices of the tech giants. It called for more transparency in how firms collect and use data, and more control for users over their personal information.
On Wednesday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill will hold a high-profile hearing to examine privacy practices among big companies including Google and Twitter Inc., as well as telecommunications companies such as AT&T Inc.
Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai has agreed to meet with top GOP lawmakers on Friday, responding to new scrutiny of the company’s work with China, its market power and alleged bias against conservative voices in its search results.
Tuesday’s meeting of attorneys general had been expected to also focus on the political-bias allegations, which have been a concern among some Republican officials, including state attorneys general as well as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.). President Trump also has recently accused Google of skewing online search results to highlight negative news stories about him.
The tech platforms deny allowing any political bias to affect their news, search or other functions.
Attendees said the bias issue got less attention than expected, however.
Mr. Sessions “was really the only one who was talking about political speech,” said Brian Frosh, the Democratic attorney general of Maryland.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
September 26th, 2018