US Congress Targets Tech Giants With Competition Probe

The US House of Representatives has launched a probe into digital markets and “anti-competitive conduct” in the tech industry, as news broke of a possible wide-ranging investigation by US regulators.

The US has been accused in the past of giving large tech companies a relatively free hand, even as in Europe firms such as Apple, Facebook and Google have been the target of wide-ranging probes and massive fines.

On Monday the House of Representatives’ judiciary committee said it would “document competition problems” and wanted to assess “whether existing antitrust laws, competition policies and current enforcement levels are adequate to address these issues”.

“The open internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, including a surge of economic opportunity, massive investment, and new pathways for education online,” committee chair Jerrold Nadler said in a statement.

‘Apple Park’, Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino

‘Fairness’

“But there is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content and communications.”

“As the world becomes more dependent on a digital marketplace, we must discuss how the regulatory framework is built to ensure fairness and competition.” stated Jim Sensenbrenner, antitrust subcommittee ranking member.

Separately, on Monday technology shares dropped after news broke over the weekend that US regulators were preparing to investigate companies including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

Multiple news outlets reported that the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice had divided jurisdiction of the four companies between them, with the FTC overseeing Amazon and Facebook and the Justice Department scrutinising Apple and Google.

Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the Justice Department was preparing an antitrust investigation of Google.

Competition issues in the tech industry have become a political issue ahead of next year’s US presidential elections, with president Trump having repeatedly criticised Amazon, Google and social media companies.

‘Too much power’

Democratic senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren said in a blog post that tech companies “have too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy.

“They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.”

Senator Kamala Harris, another 2020 hopeful, said the government should take a “serious” look at whether Facebook should be broken up.

But Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents a district including parts of Silicon Valley, said the tech industry should be subject to “strong antitrust enforcement”, but that any investigation should also protect “innovation and growth”.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook, speaking in an interview with US television network CBS that aired on Tuesday, said the company controlled only a moderate share of the market.

“With size, I think scrutiny is fair. I think we should be scrutinised,” he said.

He added that no “reasonable” person would conclude that Apple is a monopoly.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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