All four US consumer tech giants — Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple — are facing a new antitrust probe conducted by the US Congress.
The House Judiciary Committee announced on Monday it would launch a broad investigation to determine if dominant firms are engaging in anti-competitive conduct, and whether or not existing laws are adequate to protect competition in the digital market.
The bipartisan investigation will include a series of hearings held by the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law on the rise of market power online, as well as requests for information that are relevant to the investigation.
This is the first time Congress has undertaken an investigation into this behaviour and builds on pressure from both sides of politics to examine the market power wielded by the tech giants.
“There is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications,” said Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
“The Committee has a rich tradition of conducting studies and investigations to assess the threat of monopoly power in the US economy. Given the growing tide of concentration and consolidation across our economy, it is vital that we investigate the current state of competition in digital markets and the health of the antitrust laws.”
In the most extreme cases inquiries can lay the groundwork for breaking companies up, or forcing them to radically alter their practices.
Shares in Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple all declined on Monday following a series of news reports that the DOJ and FTC are planning to conduct their own antitrust investigations into the big four.
“The growth of monopoly power across our economy is one of the most pressing economic and political challenges we face today. Market power in digital markets presents a whole new set of dangers,” said Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline.
“After four decades of weak antitrust enforcement and judicial hostility to antitrust cases, it is vital for Congress to step in to determine whether existing laws are adequate to tackle abusive conduct by platform gatekeepers or if we need new legislation.”
Over the weekend it the Wall Street Journal reported the US Justice Department is setting up an investigation into Google to examine if its businesses have breached antitrust laws.
Outside of antitrust, the FTC is expected to conclude its investigation into Facebook’s data and privacy practices shortly by handing the social media giant a fine between $3 billion and $5 billion.