State Attorneys General Want To Know If Facebook And Google Are Too Big

Sep 9, 2019
Originally published on September 9, 2019 8:40 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Are Facebook and Google stifling the competition? Two investigations into the tech giants are asking that very question. We expect an announcement today from dozens of attorneys general about the Google investigation. As for Facebook, on Friday, New York's attorney general announced she was launching a probe into that company, and now eight other attorneys general are joining in. Among them, Ohio's Attorney General David Yost, who joins us on the line this morning. Mr. Yost, good morning.

DAVID YOST: Good morning.

GREENE: So your investigation is into Facebook's so-called noncompetitive practices and their dominance. Can you just give me a sense of your argument here?

YOST: Yeah. And I have to be careful. I'm not legally permitted to talk about an investigation.

GREENE: To give me the whole strategy? (Laughter).

YOST: I could talk about the concerns.

GREENE: Sure.

YOST: You know, the concerns are the amount of data that Facebook, for example, has not only from its own native application but things like WhatsApp, that it also owns. It gives them a 360-degree view into the world. Facebook just announced that they've got 2.2 billion users globally. That's just a huge, huge reach into the marketplace. And the insight that that gives them into their potential competition gives rise to some serious concern.

GREENE: I mean, Facebook always says, like, you don't have to use their platform. You can easily leave whenever you want. There are lots of other things to do on the Internet. But you're seeing a lot of this is just the amount of information they have on people?

YOST: Right. And that's how they monetize their platform, is they sell that information to advertisers. But the integration of that from Facebook and its other platforms - when you think you're going somewhere else - you want to leave Facebook and go to - what? - Instagram, WhatsApp - guess what? - you're still talking to Facebook.

GREENE: So how will you handle this investigation? I mean, could we see Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO, testifying under oath at some point?

YOST: You know, it's too early to talk about that. The announcement by New York and the eight other attorneys general last week is the leadership team that is planning the work. And these things are complex and take quite a while to put together.

GREENE: So then there's supposed to be a news conference announcing the investigation to Google later today. I know there are reportedly some 40 attorneys general involved. Are you one of them?

YOST: Yes.

GREENE: OK. And just step back for me if you can - if we're investigating these very well-known companies - Facebook, Google - like, could you imagine an outcome of these probes that that would break up these companies at some point? Is that where we could be headed here?

YOST: Well, that's certainly always a possibility. I personally think that breakup is an extreme remedy and perhaps not the best remedy. But we need to find out what the facts are to see if there's something, you know, going on here that warrants government intervention. Right now we're fact-gathering.

GREENE: All right, David Yost is the attorney general of the state of Ohio joining us this morning. We appreciate your time. Thanks a lot.

YOST: Thank you.

GREENE: And just an important note here - we should tell you that Google and Facebook are both recent financial sponsors of NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.