The states may be at legal war with one another over whether Joe Biden stole the presidency, but 46 attorneys general from across the country, led by New York’s Tish James, agree that Facebook has “illegally” and in a “predatory manner” acquired competitors to maintain a dominant position over social media. Their 75-page complaint — capped with another 48 pages of AG signatures — brims with serious accusations that customers and the overall marketplace have been unduly harmed by Mark Zuckerberg’s many-tentacled monster.

That lawsuit coincides with another, from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, demanding Facebook divest itself of Instagram and WhatsApp, two mega-successful platforms acquired in 2012 and 2014 that give it a virtual stranglehold on the data of millions of Americans and billions worldwide.

One hurdle in making the case is that Facebook and its products are free to consumers; there’s no rising cable bill the government can point to as evidence of consumer harm. The theory now is that consumers have, in fact, paid substantial costs, in the form of worse and worse personal privacy protections, forced upon users year after year, erosions that enable Facebook to profit mightily in digital advertising. Consumers have little choice to take their business elsewhere since Facebook, having swallowed competitors, can do essentially what it wants atop the commanding heights of a critical economic sector.

We’ll see what the courts think, but it holds legal water for us. An early Facebook privacy policy proclaimed, “We do not and will not use cookies to collect private information from any user.” Such a statement now feels roughly as current as a mosquito captured in amber.

Facebook stands astride social media like a troll on a bridge, and seemingly satisfied consumers pay with their private information. It’s a deal they can’t refuse.


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