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Ministry of Justice opens comprehensive new antitrust review of large technology companies



WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice is launching a full antitrust review to find out if dominant technology companies are unlawfully hindering competition, and is adding a new threat to ministry officials for companies like Washington

Facebook
Inc.,

Google,

Amazon.com
Inc.

and

Apple
Inc.

The review aims to examine the practices of online platforms that dominate internet search, social media and retail services, officials said.

The New Antitrust investigation is the strongest signal yet from Attorney General William Barr's keen interest in the technology industry could compound the already substantial regulatory pressure on leading US technology companies. The review is expected to go beyond recent technology review plans prepared by the Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

The two authorities sharing antitrust enforcement powers have worked out in recent months which of them would take the lead in exploring various issues involving the four major technology giants. These turf contracts caused a stir in the technology industry and unsettled investors. Now, the new review by the Department of Justice may increase the risk, as some of these companies have to file antitrust claims from both the Department of Justice and the FTC.

The FTC created its own task force in February to oversee competition in the technology sector. The work of this team is still ongoing.

The Department of Justice will address issues such as how the most dominant technology companies have grown in size and power ̵

1; and expanded their reach to other companies. The Department of Justice is also interested in how Big Tech has used the powers that come with very large user networks, the officials said.

There is no defined ultimate goal for the Big Tech review except to understand if there are any. There are antitrust issues that need to be addressed, but a wide range of options are available, the authorities said. The investigation of the department could ultimately lead to more targeted investigations of the behavior of a particular company.

The review also poses risks for companies going beyond the identification of antitrust problems. The department will not ignore other business practices that might raise concerns about compliance with other laws.

The Department of Justice has prepared to investigate whether Google is applying illegal monopolization practices.


Photo:

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The Ministry of Justice has already prepared to investigate whether

alphabet
Inc.

Google commits illegal monopolization. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 31 the ministry's plans for this investigation, the existence of which was not confirmed by the Department of Justice.

The antitrust department of the Ministry will conduct both reviews. It is not known if and when the two efforts will intersect. At the broader technical review, the department will work in close coordination with Deputy Prosecutor General Jeffrey Rosen, officials said.

The department seems to be up to date. Recently, a private presentation was held where officials heard from critics of Facebook, including academics, who voiced their concerns about the social media giants and voted in favor of dissolving them, according to the people familiar with the meeting. Technology and antitrust investigators believed that issues related to the dominance of Facebook should be resolved by the FTC.

Both the FTC and the Department of Justice have made it clear that they consider competition issues as a priority in the technology sector.

In the arrangements that have been brokered Over the past few months, the Department of Justice has been authorized by Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim and FTC chairman Joseph Simons to begin an investigation into Google's illegal monopolization tactics and Apple's jurisdiction over similar issues. The FTC has worked out the right to investigate monopolization issues of Facebook and Amazon. (The Commission has already carried out a lengthy investigation into Facebook's privacy practices with regard to consumer protection and the company has agreed to a $ 5 billion fine.)

Justice Department officials said these arrangements were not meant to be permanent or all-inclusive , full. In any case, the department did not try to anticipate the work of the FTC and suggested that the two agencies could investigate different technical practices of the same company as well as different legal theories for possible cases.

According to a person familiar with the discussions, two agencies were in regular contact to coordinate their efforts.

Representatives of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple have not responded to requests for comments immediately.

The big tech companies said they are highly innovative companies that create jobs and offer products and services that consumers love. They said they rightfully conquered their place at the top of the technology pyramid and had to fight hard to stay there.

However, while the top technology companies were once the darlings of the public, attitudes have changed as some consumers and politicians on both the left and right side no longer feel well about how much power and influence they are in To exercise the economy and society. Some democratic presidential candidates have called for the dissolution of companies such as Google and Facebook, while the legislators of both parties have sometimes sounded alarm bells for various reasons. Some Republicans expressed concerns about technology companies rejecting conservative votes, claiming industry leaders denied it.

President Trump has recently escalated his criticism of Big Tech and openly pointed out that the US Google and Facebook should sue the new efforts of the Justice Department.

In addition to the Department of Justice and the FTC review, a House subcommittee is also investigating potential anti-competitive behavior in the technology sector. Executives from Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon have all testified before the panel last week.

In January, at the confirmation hearing of Mr. Barr, seeds were put for the new review by the Department of Justice when he said he believed in technology-related cartel issues were important.

Share Your Thoughts

What do you think should focus on the Department of Justice's new antitrust investigation? Join the following conversation .

"I think big is not necessarily bad, but I think many people are wondering how the monsters of the antitrust authorities have formed so much monstrosity that is now in Silicon Valley," Barr said to the senators. "You can win this place in the marketplace without violating antitrust laws, but I want to find out more about this momentum."

Justice Department officials said they would use the new antitrust review to obtain extensive input and information from industry participants It is not yet known if much of the information gathering will be on a voluntary basis or if companies could eventually be forced by the government to hand over materials.

Write to Brent Kendall at [email protected]

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