Google Gets Sued, FTC Issues Orders to Social Media Platforms

While social media has provided an incredible outlet for those bound to their homes during this pandemic—and served as a fantastic way to connect in a now-virtual world—2020 seems to be the year of its reckoning if ever there was one.

Last week we reported on the Federal Trade Commission’s lawsuit against Facebook, which cites monopolistic behavior by the social media company. Now it appears Google is being sued for similar behavior, though this time the lawsuit is being brought by a group of attorneys general in multiple states, led by Texas.

The lawsuit—whose co-plaintiffs include the attorneys general of Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, South Dakota, North Dakota, Utah, and Idaho, along with that of Texas—charges Google with engaging in anticompetitive behavior, particularly with regard to the online advertising market.

Announced by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton in a video on Dec. 16, the suit alleges that Google essentially controls the process by which an ad gets from an agency onto a web page or mobile app. “It isn’t fair that Google effectively eliminated its competition and crowned itself the head of online advertising,” said Paxton. “Let me put it this way: If the free market was a baseball game, Google positioned itself as the pitcher, the batter, and the umpire.”

The attorney generals are seeking monetary damages from Google, and in their suit ask the court to enact “structural relief to restore competitive conditions in the relevant markets.”

A spokeswoman from Google responded to the allegations, saying, “Attorney General Paxton’s ad tech claims are meritless, yet he’s gone ahead in spite of all the facts. We’ve invested in state-of-the-art ad tech services that help businesses and benefit consumers.… We will strongly defend ourselves from his baseless claims in court.”

The FTC has kept itself busy these last few weeks as well. In addition to its recently announced lawsuit against Facebook, it has issued orders to nine social media and video streaming companies mandating that they provide data on how they collect, use, and present personal information; their advertising and user engagement practices; and how their practices affect children and teens.

The platforms receiving the orders include Amazon, ByteDance (which operates TikTok), Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube.

“Social media and video streaming services have become almost unavoidable in today’s modern world, particularly as many Americans are working, socializing, and attending school online during the national pandemic,” FTC commissioners Rohit Chopra, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, and Christine S. Wilson said in a joint statement. “Despite their central role in our daily lives, the decisions that prominent online platforms make regarding consumers and consumer data remain shrouded in secrecy. Critical questions about business models, algorithms, and data collection and use have gone unanswered. Policymakers and the public are in the dark about what social media and video streaming services do to capture and sell users’ data and attention. It is alarming that we still know so little about companies that know so much about us.”

The companies have 45 days from the date they received the order to respond.

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