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Attorney General Jeff Sessions Discusses Social Media Privacy With Top Officials

A gathering between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and top state law enforcement officials took place on Tuesday to discuss the ways the government can protect the privacy of social media users.

The meeting at the Justice Department was programmed to address whether tech giants are “stifling the free exchange of ideas” and judge whether they “may be hurting competition.” It concluded without having determined whether or not to investigate.

Justice Department officials stated the meeting “centered on ways the Department and state governments can most effectively safeguard consumers using online digital platforms.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, says the hour-long gathering essentially focused on data privacy concerns and customer issues.

He added that even though there was no immediate decision on whether to investigate or not, they discussed what constitutes a monopoly in the tech field and the interpretation of privacy.

“The conversation really zeroed in on privacy,” he said. “I think everyone sees the growth of the industry as something that has become of interest to regulators and enforcers. How it might apply, that is still the open question.”

The Justice Department announced it is to examine the “insight” shared by the attorneys general and that discussion on the matter will continue.

The United States Commerce Department said it is examining how to set national data privacy laws in the wake of new requirements adopted by California and the European Union.

“The way the Justice Department originally described this conversation was that it was going to be about whether social platforms may be, quote, ‘hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas,'” said Alina Selyukh, business correspondent for NPR in the U.S.. “Facebook, Google and Twitter have all pushed back against this and argued that their algorithms are not political.”

Ms. Selyukh cites two big pieces to this debate.

“The culture and politics of Silicon Valley is really liberal,” she said. “There’s no way around that. Political contributions from workers there overwhelmingly go to Democrats. But what Trump and others have argued is that technologically the companies have allegedly rigged their software, somehow otherwise are suppressing consumer views, and for that they have not offered any evidence.”

She adds: “And another thing to remember is companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, they are private platforms. So theoretically, they can set whatever standards they want for what they allow to be said on their platforms. Though, of course, the companies themselves have long fought to be viewed as those neutral public squares.”

Leading internet search engine Google, meanwhile, is to recognize its “mistakes” on privacy issues in front of the U.S. Senate committee. Google will testify alongside Apple, Amazon, AT&T, and other companies amid increasing data privacy concerns.

In 2012, Google paid a then-record $22.5 million civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges because it deceived Apple Safari Internet browser users by promising it would not use “cookies” for targeted ads.