South Carolina State Attorney General Alan Wilson should be commended for joining the attorneys general of 47 other states in an overdue, major bipartisan inquiry into the business practices of Google.
“No company, no matter how big and how powerful, is above the law. Every citizen has the right to the protection of his or her privacy even from internet giants. We will get to the bottom of and answer these very serious questions regarding Google’s practices,” Mr. Wilson stated on Monday.
The group’s action underscores the increasing power of the state attorneys general when they marshal their substantial forces. For instance, the attorneys general of all 50 states and the District of Columbia recently reached a major agreement with the nation’s 12 top telephone companies aimed at eradicating unwelcome robocalls that have become a top consumer complaint.
Mr. Wilson went a step further with a follow-up letter to the Federal Communications Commission, urging it to “encourage” all telephone companies to add free call blocking and authentication technology to protect consumers.
Aside from the Google probe, a smaller group of eight AGs is focusing on Facebook’s market dominance. Both are subjects that Congress and the Justice Department have arguably shied away from.
The Google probe is led by Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who said, “[W]e have seen evidence that Google’s business practices may have undermined consumer choice, stifled innovation, violated users’ privacy, and put Google in control of the flow and dissemination of online information.”
The Facebook probe, led by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James, is “investigating whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk.” South Carolina is not involved in the examination of Facebook’s market dominance.
The main focus of most state AG offices is consumer protection, and both probes properly fall into that category. Given their rise in prominence in addressing major consumer questions, it is worth noting that the nation’s AGs and their national organization, the National Association of Attorneys General, are a fairly politically diverse group. There are 27 Democratic state AGs including the District of Columbia and 24 Republicans.
Although the great majority are elected in partisan campaigns, not appointed, they clearly can work together on major cases without the hyper-partisan divides that bog down Congress, a factor that has made them increasingly visible in pushing for greater consumer protection.
The AGs are funded by their state governments, but their bipartisan national group, the NAAG, also has access to funds from the 1998 settlement of a lawsuit against Big Tobacco, allowing it to provide legal assistance to the states. The presidency of NAAG wisely alternates between Republican and Democratic attorneys general.
The investigations into Google and Facebook promise to surface valuable information on which to improve consumer choice and protection. They might even lead to major federal antitrust cases.
The bipartisan effort represented by these probes is a welcome path.