The Department of Justice said Tuesday it’s opening an investigation into whether big tech companies are unlawfully reducing competition or harming consumers.
The announcement came just days after representatives from Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple struggled to respond to accusations of antitrust during testimony before congressional lawmakers.
The DOJ’s Antitrust Division will look into “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers,” according to a department news release.
“The Department’s review will consider the widespread concerns that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media, and some retail services online,” the statement added.
“The Department’s Antitrust Division is conferring with and seeking information from the public, including industry participants who have direct insight into competition in online platforms, as well as others.”
The department’s release did not mention any platforms by name, but as The Wall Street Journal noted, companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple are the ones who will most likely be threatened.
Attorney General William Barr suggested at his confirmation hearing in January that he was interested in probing this issue.
“I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers,” Barr said.
“You can win that place in the marketplace without violating the antitrust laws, but I want to find out more about that dynamic.”
According to Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, there’s concern that big tech companies won’t put consumers’ interests first without sufficient competition.
“Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” Delrahim said.
“The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”
Thus far, big tech companies haven’t done a great job responding to accusations of antitrust violations.
When asked last week if he believes Facebook is a monopoly, Matt Perault, who serves as the social media giant’s head of global policy development, said he believes the company has a number of competitors. This despite the fact that four of the largest social media platforms in the world — Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram — are all owned by Facebook.
According to the DOJ’s media release, the goal of the “review is to assess the competitive conditions in the online marketplace in an objective and fair-minded manner and to ensure Americans have access to free markets in which companies compete on the merits to provide services that users want.”
“If violations of law are identified, the Department will proceed appropriately to seek redress,” the release added.
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