US states launch antitrust probe of big tech; Google ads in focus

Google has faced accusations that its web search service leads consumers to its own products at the cost of competitors. (AFP)
Updated 09 September 2019

US states launch antitrust probe of big tech; Google ads in focus

  • The Big Tech giants have increasingly come under fire for allegedly misusing their clout
  • US President Donald Trump has called for closer scrutiny of social media firms

WASHINGTON: Attorneys general from 48 US states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have opened an antitrust probe into big tech companies that focuses on Alphabet’s Google, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton formally announced on Monday.
Paxton leads the probe, he said, which will focus on Google’s advertising business.
The Big Tech giants that were once praised as engines of economic growth with massive efficiencies have increasingly come under fire for allegedly misusing their clout in the market and lapses such as privacy breaches.
US President Donald Trump has called for closer scrutiny of social media firms and Google, accusing them of suppressing conservative voices online without presenting any evidence.
Google specifically has faced accusations that its web search service, which has become so dominant that it is now a verb, leads consumers to its own products at the cost of competitors. There have also been complaints of potentially anti-competitive behavior in how it runs the advertising side of its business.
Google said in a statement on Friday that it had not yet been contacted by state antitrust enforcers but would work constructively with them.
Separately, a second group of state attorneys general, led by New York, is focusing on Facebook Inc, it was announced on Friday.
The social media platform, which owns one-time rivals Instagram and WhatsApp and has more than 1.5 billion daily users, has been criticized for allowing misleading posts and so-called “fake news” on its service. Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president for state and local policy, said last week that the company would cooperate with state attorneys general.
One criticism of Facebook is that it has been slow to clamp down on hate speech, and it recently paid a $5 billion settlement for sharing 87 million users’ data with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The consultancy’s clients included Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
On the federal level, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission are probing Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, also for potential violations of antitrust law.
Google’s parent Alphabet said on Friday the Department of Justice in late August requested information and documents related to prior antitrust probes of the company. The company added in a securities filing that it expects similar investigative demands from state attorneys general, and that it is cooperating with regulators.
Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer, has been accused of unfair tactics with third-party sellers on its website, who must pay for advertising to compete against first-party and private label sales by Amazon itself.
Apple has come under fire from app developers over practices like making only iPhone apps available through its official App Store. The music-streaming app Spotify has alleged that App Store policies make it difficult to compete against Apple Music for paid subscribers.
State attorneys general have fewer resources than the federal agencies but have been known to team up to take on even giant corporations.
Most recently, 43 states and Puerto Rico sued Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and 19 other drugmakers in May, accusing them of scheming to inflate prices and reduce competition for more than 100 generic drugs.


Lebanese journalist Roula Khalaf becomes first female editor of Financial Times

Updated 12 November 2019

Lebanese journalist Roula Khalaf becomes first female editor of Financial Times

  • Khalaf has served as deputy editor, foreign editor and Middle East editor during her more than two decades at FT
  • Khalaf will join Katharine Viner at the Guardian as one of the few women to edit major newspapers in Britain

LONDON: Lebanese journalist Roula Khalaf will become the first woman to edit the Financial Times in its 131-year history after Lionel Barber, Britain’s most senior financial journalist, said he would step down.
Barber said on Tuesday he would leave in January after 14 years as editor and 34 years at the Nikkei-owned newspaper, which had one million paying readers in 2019, with digital subscribers accounting for more than 75% of total circulation.
Khalaf has served as deputy editor, foreign editor and Middle East editor during her more than two decades at the salmon-pink FT and in recent years has sought to increase diversity in the newsroom and attract more female readers, while also becoming the publication’s first Arab editor.
“It’s a great honor to be appointed editor of the FT, the greatest news organization in the world.
“I look forward to building on Lionel Barber’s extraordinary achievements,” said Khalaf, whose earlier writing for Forbes magazine had earned her a small role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
Her article described the leading character Jordan Belfort as sounding like a twisted version of Robin Hood who takes from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers.
Khalaf will join Katharine Viner at the Guardian as one of the few women to edit major newspapers in Britain and one of few leading female editors in the world after Jill Abramson left the New York Times.
Before joining the FT in 1995, Khalaf worked at Forbes in New York and earned a master’s at Columbia University and graduated from Syracuse University.
Tsuneo Kita, chairman of Japan’s Nikkei which bought the FT from Pearson in 2015, said in a statement Khalaf was chosen for her sound judgment and integrity.
“We look forward to working closely with her to deepen our global media alliance.”
Nikkei’s Kita described Barber as a strategic thinker and true internationalist, adding he was very sad to see him leave.
“However, both of us agree it is time to open a new chapter,” he said.
During his time as editor, Barber engineered a successful push into online subscription that protected the title as others battled an unprecedented collapse in advertising revenue, as well as managing the move to a new owner.