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Your privacy rights explained, as investigations into Facebook, Google ramp up

WATCH: Your privacy rights explained as investigations into Facebook Google ramp up

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Colorado's state attorney general Phil Weiser -- along with 50 other attorneys general nationwide -- recently announced the start of antitrust investigations into big tech companies including Google and Facebook.

The attorneys general joined the investigation into Google and its advertising practices on Monday. They'll look into whether Google has taken part in unfair business practices that are unlawful and anti-competitive.

Their concern is that Google owns too much of the online advertising market and makes decisions that benefit Google more than they benefit its users.

The attorneys general said they have already served Google subpoenas to start the investigation.

On Friday, nine state attorneys general, including Weiser, said they plan to investigate Facebook for similar purposes.

"We believe in competition in this country," Weiser told KRDO Tuesday. "There's a lot of concern across the United States." 

Weiser continued: "When a firm like Google becomes so big, and there's not a lot of rivals, we ask the question - are they doing anything that's getting in the way of competition?"

Both investigations come during sweeping federal and congressional investigations of the tech industry following enforcement action by European regulators.

KRDO spoke with Margot Kaminski, an associate professor at the University of Colorado, to see how these investigations could impact Facebook and Google users, and what privacy issues are at play when companies mine, own, and sell vast amounts of personal data.

Why should your average online consumer care about these investigations?

"The problems of privacy and monopoly power are really closely connected," said Kaminski. She says the more of a monopoly a company has on a certain product, the less of a choice people have when it comes to the amount of information they would prefer to share.

"For you as a consumer, to have a choice about whether or not a website can use your data, there needs to be at least an alternative in the ecosystem for services that you want to have provided," she explains.

How might Facebook's and Google's near monopolies impact competitors in the tech industry?

"In order to build good artificial intelligence, you have to have huge data sets on people," says Kaminski. "So, one of the legitimate questions that's being raised is, 'how on earth does a start-up or a small company break into a market where their technology can only be built if you have enormous amounts of data to train it on?'" 

"Facebook and Google and other similar companies, in having that amount of information that they've collected over many years, they have a real market advantage."

Are there any clear solutions to a monopolized tech industry?

Kaminski says one option is to break Facebook and Google apart into a number of different companies, allowing consumers to have more choices when it comes to a company's privacy policy, but she didn't say how it could be done.

She did, however, say both Facebook and Google have taken over the tech and social media industries by buying out their competitors.

Kaminski says one of the few clear options to allow competitors to play catch up is to grant them access to the massive user data sets Facebook and Google possess. She says these data sets obviously violates users' privacy rights, making it a highly unlikely to happen.

Colorado State Attorney General Phil Weiser says they'll focus in on Facebook's and Google's privacy policies, along with their excessive market power. He says the investigations could lead to new online privacy laws.


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