Ohio Lawmakers Prepare for Big Tech Anti-Trust Hearings

Though lawmakers only mentioned Google and Facebook during the Wednesday news conference announcing the probe, they said the hearings will cover large technology firms in general.

by Jeremy Pelzer, Advance Ohio Media / September 19, 2019
Shutterstock/pixinoo

(TNS) — Days after Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost launched anti-trust investigations into Facebook and Google, state lawmakers announced their own plans to scrutinize the power and size of big tech firms.

The Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled hearings next month in Cleveland and Cincinnati to look at anti-trust concerns with large technology firms, Senate leaders announced at a Statehouse news conference Wednesday.

“I think anybody who’s objectively looking at the facts could say, ‘Well, I’ve got some questions there. I’d kind of like to try to get some answers,’” said Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican.

While it’s too soon to say what action – if any – state lawmakers might take to rein in these companies, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair John Eklund noted that Ohio’s anti-trust law hasn’t been substantially updated in a “very, very long time.”

However, Eklund, a Geauga County Republican, added that state lawmakers must be mindful not to violate the U.S. Constitution, which gives the federal government the sole power to regulate interstate commerce.

Yost, who also spoke at the news conference, said Ohioans should pay attention to what firms like Google and Facebook are doing.

“Google knows your search-engine interests going back many, many years. Facebook knows your interests going back many, many years. They’re selling that,” Yost said. “Why do they get to have that forever just because you signed up to use their platform?”

Traditionally, anti-trust cases involve companies that dominate a particular market so much they can stifle competition and inflate prices. But Yost said the investigation into tech companies is different, because Facebook and Google make their billions not from charging users, but from collecting information on them to sell to advertisers.

“The consumers, Bill and Betty Buckeye, I would suggest to you, are not the consumers – they’re the product,” Yost said. “And they don’t know it.”

During the hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear not only from anti-trust lawyers and law enforcement, but also tech experts, Eklund said. The meetings, which are open to the public, will be held Oct. 17 at Cleveland State University and Oct. 28 at the University of Cincinnati.

While Yost, Eklund and Obhof only mentioned Google and Facebook during Wednesday’s news conference, Eklund said the hearings will cover large tech firms in general, not just those two companies.

Yost’s Facebook investigation will center on whether the social-media giant has endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising. The AG’s Google probe, meanwhile, will look at whether the company’s online advertising dominance has led to anti-competitive behavior.

©2019 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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