NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry about a new bipartisan, multistate investigation into the business practices of large tech firms like Google and Facebook.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
On the steps of the Supreme Court today, a show of force by state attorneys general. Their target – Google. Fifty attorneys general that’s representing 48 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, they all announced their investigation into whether the tech giant has engaged in monopolistic behavior. Joining us now is Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. He’s one of those who was out on the Supreme Court steps today.
Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
JEFF LANDRY: Well, thank you for having me.
KELLY: Glad to have you with us. I saw from your remarks today you said that Google represents an absolutely existential threat in our virtual marketplace. Explain.
LANDRY: Well, it does. You know, there are, of course, a multitude of issues that I’ve raised over the last 18 months concerning big tech and Google’s practices, right? And one of those is the digital advertising space because what has happened is as the Internet has expanded, the amount of places to place ads has exponentially grown. And so it has created basically a virtual commodity and exchange for digital advertising. And what has happened is that that exchange is now dominated, controlled exclusively by Google.
KELLY: Where is the harm? Say Google is a monopoly – and I’m not saying that, but hypothetically – how is it harming you or me?
LANDRY: Well, I’ll give you an example. So if you were looking for a product – to repair a product. Let’s say, you know, I’ll give you an example that I used many, many times. I was looking for a cover for my dog bed, right? And I didn’t need the foam part. That was still in place. The dog had just ripped the zipper. And so I went to look for it, and I just Googled the type of bed that I had and was looking for just a cover.
LANDRY: What I got was an entire page that said that the cover was out of stock. I went to the second page – out of stock. I went to the third page. At the bottom of the third page I’ve started to find the actual cover. But what was happening was Google was driving me and making me believe that there were no covers available, and I had to purchase the entire bed again. Those are the types of practices that are going on, and that is absolutely the type that harms the consumer. And you see it again and again and again. It’s basically ad manipulation.
KELLY: So let me jump in and just quickly put to you Google’s point of view because I want to hear your response. And I should note here that Google is a corporate sponsor of NPR. When our tech reporter reached out to them, they pointed to a blog post published last Friday from a Google exec arguing the company is providing services people want, it’s making our lives better. Do you disagree?
LANDRY: Well, wait a minute. Certainly I would agree to that all of technology has made life a lot better, but it doesn’t mean that you can operate outside of the fundamentals of a free market. They’re certainly not doing it in a very transparent manner. Look. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was set up to ensure that there is no corporation in America that has the ability to control such a segment of our economy such that it can harm the consumer or affect the economy.
And what I would tell you is that based upon the evidence that we’ve seen that Google absolutely has that type of power. It mines a tremendous amount of data off of the consumer, of which the consumer doesn’t even realize that they are extracting from them. And then they monetize that data to control the digital advertising space and push publishers and content out.
I mean, look. You – basically what happens is that let’s just say that Google no longer wants to let NPR advertise anymore. They could drive the advertising cost of NPR up while giving The New York Times a better rate, and you would never know it. There’s no transparency. It doesn’t operate in the same manner…
KELLY: You’re making this personal now (laughter).
LANDRY: Well, I’m just using it as an example, though…
KELLY: Yeah. I hear you.
LANDRY: …Because it could happen.
KELLY: As you know, usually an investigation like this would be undertaken at the federal level. Why are you state attorneys general the right investigators in this case?
LANDRY: Many antitrust cases start at the state level as well with cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice, and that’s exactly what you’re seeing here. We’ve met with the attorney general twice now discussing evidence that we think is in the marketplace and the harm that is being caused.
KELLY: Jeff Landry, thank you so much.
LANDRY: Thank you.
KELLY: He is attorney general of Louisiana, and he is 1 of 50 state attorneys general behind an antitrust investigation of Google.
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