Congress Comes for Tech Giants with Wide Antitrust Probe

Big tech companies like Facebook and Amazon are facing increasing scrutiny over whether they are harmful monopolies.

(Courtesy photo)

Federal lawmakers are calling tech executives back to the questioning table with a new antitrust investigation into whether some companies are operating as monopolies, in a new wave of scrutiny on the industry that has followed since the 2016 election. 

Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, leader of a House antitrust committee, announced on Monday a bipartisan probe into the tech industry as a whole, exploring whether tech giants like Facebook and Google have used anti-competitive business tactics that have harmed consumers. In the end, it seeks to determine whether new legislation or enforcement is necessary.

“The growth of monopoly power across our economy is one of the most pressing economic and political challenges we face today,” Cicilline said in a statement. “After four decades of weak antitrust enforcement and judicial hostility to antitrust cases, it is critical that Congress step in to determine whether existing laws are adequate to tackle abusive conduct by platform gatekeepers or whether we need new legislation to respond to this challenge.”

Though subsequent legislation would be far away, the investigation would request documents, call for witnesses, and could even result in subpoenas to take a long, hard look at the power tech companies have amassed in a relatively short period. And it’s a notable rebound from the last time lawmakers floundered during a rare chance to hold tech executives, like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, accountable in April 2018 regarding their role in the chaos of the 2016 election. 

Zuckerberg welcomed regulations then, but ones focused on harmful content, political ads during elections, and privacy and data protection. Since then, calls to take a closer look at the size of tech companies have grown louder.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the public face of this push, with her presidential campaign promise to “break up big tech,” a slogan she placed on a billboard near Caltrain last week. Her plan includes forcing companies to separate platforms from being participants, like Amazon to its Amazon Marketplace, and appointing regulators to de-couple companies, like Facebook from What’s App and Instagram.

Even the Trump administration’s Justice Department took its first steps in opening a federal antitrust investigation into Google and putting Amazon under Federal Trade Commission watch in just the past few days.

In any case, we may get to hear how Snapchat really feels about Instagram Live.

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