The Washington Post first reported on the states’ interest in joining the investigation. Will Castleberry, vice president for state and local policy at Facebook, said in a statement that the company would work “constructively with state attorneys general." He added, “People have multiple choices for every one of the services we provide.”
The update on the state inquiry was announced the day before chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was slated to testify on Capitol Hill about Facebook’s plans for the cryptocurrency Libra, which has triggered concerns from regulators over its potential impact on finances. Lawmakers are also expected to ask questions about the company’s struggles to protect users’ personal information, as well as about its revelation Monday that accounts originating in Russia sought to manipulate political conversations on its services ahead of the 2020 election.
Antitrust issues are also likely to arise, given the growing national unease with the size and power of Silicon Valley, along with growing fears that the country’s largest tech companies act in ways that unfairly harm rivals or result in higher prices or worse services for consumers.
Earlier this year, state attorneys general opened a similar bipartisan probe of Google, an investigation that centers on its advertising practices and could easily expand to cover other elements of the company’s business, officials have said. In Washington, meanwhile, federal antitrust authorities have divvied up Silicon Valley for further scrutiny. The Justice Department is probing Facebook and Google while the Federal Trade Commission has started investigating Facebook and Amazon, people familiar with the probes have said. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)
With the state probe of Facebook, the concerns span the full gamut of its sprawling digital empire, including its past struggles to protect consumers’ data and its prior acquisition of two competitors, Instagram and WhatsApp. Initially, New York launched its probe with seven other states and the District of Columbia.
“Given Facebook’s nearly unprecedented influence in so many sectors of the economy and political process, this bipartisan coalition of attorneys general is committed to ensuring that Facebook is complying with the law and meeting its obligations,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), one of the 47 officials now participating in the probe.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) added, “By working together, state attorneys general are leading the way in ensuring digital platforms respect consumer privacy and do not engage in anticompetitive behavior.”