Texas And 42 Other States Take On Google, Facebook Over Privacy, Data Antitrust Enforcement

Texas And 42 Other States Take On Google, Facebook Over Privacy, Data Antitrust Enforcement

Although no money is changing hands, consumers are paying for goods and services with their data and surrendering a measure of their privacy when they do so…

Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton is the lawyer for the State of Texas and is charged by the Texas Constitution to:

  • defend the laws and the Constitution of the State of Texas
  • represent the State in litigation
  • approve public bond issues

To fulfill these responsibilities, the Office of the Attorney General serves as legal counsel to all boards and agencies of state government, issues legal opinions when requested by the Governor, heads of state agencies and other officials and agencies as provided by Texas statutes.

The Texas AG sits as an ex-officio member of state committees and commissions, and defends challenges to state laws and suits against both state agencies and individual employees of the State.

Many Texans look to the Office of the Attorney General for guidance with disputes and legal issues. The agency receives hundreds of letters, phone calls and visits each week about crime victims’ compensation, child support, abuse in nursing homes, possible consumer fraud and other topics. To find out more about the Texas Attorney General, visit the official website at https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/.


WEEKLY NEWS ROUND-UP OF THE STATE’S

TOP LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER…

THE TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL

AG Paxton’s Office and Children at Risk Hold Press Conference to Alert Public to Threat of Illegal Massage Businesses

AUSTIN – The Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Rick Berlin and nonprofit Children at Risk held a press conference today in Houston to explain the high risk of human trafficking and increased crime in illicit massage businesses.

These businesses, which are usually unlicensed, use the cover of a legitimate service to secretly engage in both prostitution and often human trafficking by using force, fraud or coercion to compel employees to provide sexual services to customers.

These illicit and clandestine operations not only put vulnerable communities at risk but also drain time and resources from local law enforcement.

An estimated 9,000 illicit massage businesses currently operate in the United States, 700 of which are in Texas. These harmful businesses are prevalent in major cities but have also begun spreading into smaller towns, cities and suburbs.

Countless women are trapped in these storefronts and forced to provide sexual services to as many as ten men per day.

Not only are these women enslaved in a system of human trafficking, these businesses often function as fronts for other organized criminal activities such as money laundering, immigration fraud, smuggling, tax evasion, and wage and hour violations.

“Human trafficking is a hideous form of modern-day slavery that deeply affects our communities, and my office is committed to doing everything in our power to put an end to this tragic crime in Texas,” said Attorney General Paxton. “Illegal businesses that abuse and enslave our vulnerable citizens will not be allowed to stand in this great state.”

In 2017, the 85th Texas Legislature passed several statutes addressing illicit massage businesses, including Senate Bill 2065, which made the operation, maintenance or advertisement of an unlicensed massage business a violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act.

House Bill 2552 also amended the Common Nuisance statute to allow law enforcement to send a notice of arrest for prostitution or maintaining an unlicensed massage business.

The Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division will complement ongoing efforts to combat human trafficking by actively reducing the number of illegal massage businesses in Texas communities.

The Office of the Attorney General encourages anyone with information relating to the operation of an illegal massage parlor to contact the Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online at https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/consumer-protection/file-consumer-complaint.

First Assistant AG Jeff Mateer to FTC: Big Tech Companies Must Comply with State Deceptive Trade Practices Law

First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer (second from the right) speaking at today’s roundtable. | Source: Texas Attorney General Office

AUSTIN – At a roundtable of state attorneys general hosted by the Federal Trade Commission, Texas First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer today questioned whether big tech companies mislead users and run afoul of the states’ deceptive trade practices laws when they represent their social media platforms as viewpoint neutral and open to all protected speech.

“Without a doubt, big tech companies are unique for the ways that they have leveraged technology and led in innovation, improving the way we do business and the lives of consumers,” First Assistant Attorney General Mateer said. “But like other businesses, these companies have legal responsibilities, and they must avoid false, misleading and deceptive trade practices.”

During his presentation, First Assistant Attorney General Mateer cited one example after another of how big tech companies have represented themselves as providing a level playing field, open to all political viewpoints and free of bias and restrictions on the basis of policy preferences. But he also pointed out strong evidence to the contrary, including:  

  • Google censored Claremont Institute’s ad for its 40th anniversary gala dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The ad, which invited citizens to discuss what it means to be an American, was banned after Google determined it violated its policy on “race and ethnicity in personalized advertising.” Google relented after Claremont went public with what happened.  
  • Facebook prevented users from sharing a pro-President Trump column that appeared in the New York Post by award-winning columnist Selena Zito, and gave the author no reason why it censored the story before it removed the links to it.  
  • As reported by VICE News, Twitter limited the visibility of prominent Republicans in search results through a technique known as “shadow banning.”

“Whether you’re a brick and mortar or a click and mortar company, you must be forthright with your customers about the terms of service – that’s what consumer protection is all about,” First Assistant Attorney General Mateer said. “If big tech companies are not living up to their commitments and representations regarding being open to all political viewpoints and free of bias and restrictions on the basis of policy preference, then they should be held accountable for their false, misleading and deceptive trade practices.”

The roundtable of state attorneys general was held today at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

AG Paxton Urges FTC to Consider the Role of Consumer Privacy and Data in Antitrust Enforcement

AUSTIN – Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and 41 other state attorneys general, filed a bi-partisan comment with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging a renewed focus on consumer privacy and data in antitrust enforcement actions against dominant technology platforms that collect and leverage consumer data.

The comment explains that popular data-driven platforms like Google and Facebook offer what they describe as free products to consumers and then collect enormous amounts of consumer data.

Although no money is changing hands, consumers are paying for goods and services with their data and surrendering a measure of their privacy when they do so.

Even when the product is free, consumers can be harmed when a technology platform misuses consumer data, reduces product quality or privacy protections, or fails to invest in innovation.

Accordingly, the comment suggests that the FTC give renewed antitrust attention to these technology platform markets, including the ways in which privacy policies or mergers can affect the quality of products in these markets.

“Information about how everyday people spend their lives and their money has become extremely valuable, especially when aggregated into large sets and analyzed and packaged for targeted marketing,” Attorney General Paxton said. “But technology platforms often lack the incentive to provide strong privacy protections for consumers, and their dominant position in user data creates barriers to entry for new competitors. State attorneys general and the FTC can work together to protect consumer privacy and competition for free products with vigorous enforcement of state and federal antitrust laws.”

The comment was filed today at the FTC’s invitation ahead of this Wednesday’s roundtable with state attorneys general hosted by the FTC at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

View a copy of the comment to the FTC here. View the FTC’s event description and agenda here.

Notification of Opinion

Original Request for Opinion RQ-0260-KP: Use of funds collected from claims on subdivision road and drainage bonds required under Local Government Code subsection 232.003(7)

Opinion Summary KP-0256: Sections 232.003, 232.0031, and 232.004 of the Local Government Code authorize a county to use proceeds from a subdivision bond required by section 232.003 to ensure a public qr private road is constructed to standards adopted by the county for subdivision roads. A court would likely conclude that a county’s expenditure of such bond proceeds, without more, does not constitute acceptance of the roads into the county’s system of roads or otherwise obligate the county to maintain the roads.

A county may expend construction bond proceeds on subdivision drainage facilities that are not part of a road right-ofway, provided that the facilities are for stormwater runoff management or storm drainage coordination as authorized under Local Government Code subsection 232.003(8).

Notification of Opinion

Original Request for Opinion RQ-0259-KP: Authority of the Historical Commission to permit the destructive testing of human remains for research purposes, including for the purpose of obtaining DNA samples adequate to enable the identification of genetically related descendants (RQ-0259-KP)

Opinion Summary KP-0255: A court would likely conclude that the Historical Commission is authorized to permit the destructive testing of human remains for research purposes, including the purpose of obtaining DNA samples adequate to enable the identification of genetically related descendants pursuant to the Commission’s authority in Government Code chapter 442, Natural Resources Code chapter 1 91, and Health and Safety Code chapter 711.

AG Paxton Leads 16-State Brief in Support of Expanding Health Coverage Options for Small Businesses

AUSTIN – Attorney General Ken Paxton, joined by 15 other states, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the U.S. Department of Labor’s rule allowing millions of Americans employed by small businesses to access quality, affordable health coverage via Association Health Plans.

The rule proposed by the Department of Labor will significantly increase the health coverage choices available to small businesses that were previously stripped of their options as a result of Obamacare. Currently, many small business owners are unable to offer comprehensive and quality health insurance to their employees, and self-employed individuals face constantly increasing premiums and deductibles following Obamacare’s failure to implement a competitive health coverage market.

“The Association Health Plan reform is designed specifically to address the crisis of diminishing health care options for small business employees and owners,” Attorney General Paxton said. “These customizable and competitive plans will not only expand the health care options available but will put the power back in the hands of businesses of every size as they negotiate the best options for their employees.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that millions of Americans will be able to switch their health coverage to more affordable and flexible Association Health Plans, businesses will save thousands of dollars in premiums, and around 400,000 previously uninsured people will gain coverage.

Texas is joined in this amicus brief by the attorneys general of Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi, and Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky.

View a copy of the brief here.

AG Paxton Applauds 5th Circuit Opinion Upholding Legal Standards to Keep Violent Criminals in Prison

AUSTIN – Attorney General Ken Paxton today applauded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s opinion denying the extraordinary relief sought by an admitted pedophile and murderer Ricky Langley.

Langley was tried and convicted three times for the killing of a six-year-old boy. He later attempted to escape his prison sentence by claiming a Louisiana court violated federal law when it allowed a jury to find that he specifically intended to kill or severely harm the child.

“I’m pleased that the court agreed that the sought-after relief, in this case, is reserved only for extreme malfunctions of the court system. This murderer is not entitled to an opportunity to walk free,” Attorney General Paxton said. “The Fifth Circuit protected our criminal justice system admirably and ensured that this dangerous, violent criminal is held accountable for his crimes.”

In January, the Office of the Attorney General argued that loosening the standards for criminals to overturn their convictions could subvert necessary criminal justice procedures and risk public safety and that the relief Langley sought was not available in this case.

View a copy of the opinion here.

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