Attorneys General take aim at tech companies with potential multistate action

September 26, 2018

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In Washington, DC, Tuesday, there was a meeting of state Attorneys General about big technology companies and their impact on the market and public discourse. The meeting originally was called to investigate alleged anticonservative bias on social media; however, it quickly evolved into a wider discussion of multiple issues, including antitrust, consumer privacy and data security.

AGs meet to discuss potential action. Roughly 15 AGs or their deputies attended the meeting, including those from Maryland, California, Mississippi, Nebraska and Texas.

The reported conclusion of the meeting is that there will probably be a coordinated multistate inquiry focusing on antitrust issues and consumer privacy. These are two areas of apparent consensus among the AGs. The inquiry will likely include both Democratic- and Republican-controlled states. There’s disagreement, however, over the question of ideological bias. Accordingly, the fate of that issue is less certain.

Consumer privacy front and center. There are separate efforts to create a new data privacy framework at the federal level. California has already passed a new consumer privacy law that would regulate technology companies and the way that data is handled.

The tech companies, the US Chamber of Commerce and the IAB are seeking to create a uniform national standard that pre-empts the California law and any other local data-privacy rules. Generally speaking, these groups are also seeking a set of rules that are closer to current operating procedure and less strict than the California law.

Technology company representatives, including Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, are slated to testify today before the Senate Commerce Committee on privacy. Like Facebook before it, Google is expected to acknowledge that it made “mistakes” in handling consumer data in selected instances.

Why you should care. It’s unlikely that there will be any immediate changes coming from the Senate hearings or the AG meeting. However, a multistate action could result in litigation and penalties that might mandate changes in the way Facebook, Google and others collect and handle consumer data.

We may also soon see data brokers such as LiveRamp come under increased scrutiny, which they have so far generally escaped.

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