Democratic and Republican attorneys general are targeting large tech companies in court, seeking to curb their power through the judicial system as an alternative to legislation that has not gained momentum in Congress.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine is suing Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg over alleged consumer protection violations, saying he must hold big corporate CEOs accountable for their actions.
Mr. Racine claimed he has evidence to show Mr. Zuckerberg was personally involved in the data leak that allowed political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to target Facebook users during the 2016 presidential race.
“This lawsuit is not only warranted but necessary and sends a message that corporate leaders, including CEOs, will be held accountable for their actions,” Mr. Racine said in a statement on Monday.
Mr. Racine’s lawsuit said the company Cambridge Analytica exfiltrated personal data on 70 million Facebook users in the U.S., including 340,000 people in D.C, to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook, which rebranded as Meta, did not respond to a request for comment.
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The D.C. attorney general has repeatedly struck out against Facebook.
Last year, a federal judge tossed an antitrust lawsuit brought by several dozen state attorneys general, including Mr. Racine.
Mr. Racine first sued Facebook in 2018 over allegations that the platform failed to protect people’s data and later sought to add Mr. Zuckerberg to the lawsuit. The Superior Court of the District of Columbia blocked Mr. Racine’s effort in a March hearing, according to the New York Times, and now Mr. Racine is pursuing Mr. Zuckerberg individually.
Texas, which participated in the failed antitrust lawsuit, has taken aim at other platforms — Twitter and Google.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican facing a primary challenger in a run-off election on Tuesday, has vigorously positioned himself as a fighter against Big Tech. His office said last week he has filed five lawsuits against Google.
Mr. Paxton sought to investigate Twitter’s censorship practices following the platform’s ban of former President Donald Trump, and the Texan successfully fended off a challenge to his investigation from Twitter earlier this year. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit dismissed Twitter’s lawsuit against Mr. Paxton, which accused him of retaliation for the Trump ban.
More recently, Mr. Paxton has defended Texas’ new social media law in litigation before the Supreme Court. The law seeks to stop censorship by directing social media platforms with more than 50 million active users to not discriminate against Texans’ viewpoints.
Last week, Mr. Paxton urged the Supreme Court to allow enforcement of its law over the objection of tech industry trade groups. The Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice asked the high court to reverse a federal appeals court’s lifting a blockade of the law.
“Applicants — whose members, as relevant here, include Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter (the platforms) — assert a First Amendment right to refuse service to their customers based on the viewpoints those customers profess,” Mr. Paxton wrote. “This Court has never recognized such a right, and it should not do so now to vacate a stay.”
The Supreme Court has not yet resolved the dispute between Texas and the tech groups.
State prosecutors’ efforts to fight tech companies in the courts have won praise from tech’s vocal critics.
Mike Davis, the founder of the conservative Internet Accountability Project, is cheering efforts by attorneys general to crack down on tech.
“Holding Big Tech accountable is a priority for the American public, and we’re glad attorneys general around the country are responding to their constituents,” Mr. Davis said.
While legislation aiming to restrict large tech companies’ operations has stalled in Congress, that may soon change. Antitrust legislation awaiting final consideration by the full Senate could receive a review this summer, according to Axios.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer reportedly met with fellow Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois last week to discuss putting a revised version of antitrust legislation targeting tech up for a vote.
The liberal American Economic Liberties Project’s Matt Stoller called on Monday for Mr. Schumer to put antitrust proposals forward for a vote. Mr. Stoller said on Twitter that Mr. Schumer needs to hold the vote and criticized the New York Democrat as a “consistent booster of monopoly power.”