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States move forward with cartel probe of the big tech companies



WASHINGTON – A group of states is preparing for a joint antitrust investigation of large technology companies to add another level of control to an industry already in the limelight.

The efforts involving Attorney Generals are expected to be formally launched next month. It is likely to focus on whether a handful of dominant technology platforms are using their market power to stifle competition.

As part of the investigation, states are likely to address civilian investigation claims, similar to subpoenas, to technology companies and other companies, people said.

The new investigation may be in line with Justice Department plans that announced its own antitrust review last month, which will focus on technology companies, including

alphabet
Inc.

Google device and

Facebook
Inc.,

The persons familiar with the plans said:

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The exact number of states that could participate in the investigation could not be determined, although a person familiar with the efforts mentioned could be up to 20 or more in attendance.

Google, Facebook,

Amazon.com
Inc.

and

Apple
Inc.,

Four companies, which are likely to be at the center of the new investigation, declined to comment. Businesses generally claim to be fair and not anti-competitive.

The Wall Street Journal reported in June that a number of attorney general's are considering considering large tech companies. During this formal investigation, representatives of about a dozen Attorney Generals, including Republicans and Democrats, met with high-level Justice Department officials in Washington in July to discuss concerns over lack of competition in the technology sector.

The political composition of the Multistate group is not fixed. A bipartisan inquiry could give the inquiry a broader leverage effect and help protect GOP officials from questions of whether their actions are motivated by political concerns, such as: For example, how online platforms use conservative speech.

"The Attorney General involved has concerns about the control of personal data by large technology companies and will hold them accountable for anti-competitive practices that endanger privacy and consumer data," said a spokesperson for New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat.

A North Carolina Attorney General spokeswoman, Josh Stein, said he is involved in cross-party talks on the subject. Jim Hood, also a Mississippi Democrat, said in a statement he continues to deal with The aggregation of data in the hands of a few and [I] are always vigilant against any monopoly.

Attorney General of Texas

Ken Paxton,

A Republican made a statement after the meeting last month, in which he and other attorney general "discussed the real concerns of consumers across the country with large technology companies suppressing online competition."

The expected government inquiry would add a third important level of control to the tech sector. In addition to investigating the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission investigates antitrust concerns on Facebook, including the company's acquisition of emerging technology companies and competition issues in other areas of the technology industry.

This could be complemented by the involvement of Attorney Generals to complexity and cost to businesses. These officials were a driving force in the groundbreaking joint federal antitrust lawsuit

Microsoft
Corp.

two decades ago. Microsoft agreed to a number of conditions, including making the Windows platform more accessible to third-party software developers.

But the states finally splintered, whether they should accept an agreement. Some experts state that their involvement has in part significantly extended and extended the litigation.

The Department of Justice and FTC made detailed agreements early this year to review not only Google and Facebook but also Amazon.com and Apple. It is possible that several of these four major technology giants will be scrutinized by several antitrust authorities.

A Google spokeswoman who was asked to comment pointed to Congress's statement last month

Adam Cohen,

His economic policy director, who said the Internet giant for search and advertising campaigns "has helped lower prices and expand consumer and dealer choice in the US and around the world." According to Perault, the social media king is "exposed to intense competition for all of our products and services."

Representatives of Apple and Amazon have repeated these comments at the hearing, claiming that their companies compete against established competitors.

Regulators, legislators and legal experts fear that significant parts of the high-tech market are no longer competitive. These include, but are not limited to, advertising, search, social media, app sales, and certain retail areas.

The Attorney General attended the recent meeting between prosecutors and the Ministry of Justice

William Barr,

Deputy Prosecutor General

Jeffrey Rosen

and Deputy Prosecutor General

Makan Delrahim,

According to experts who run the antitrust department of the Ministry, state and federal civil servants have generally committed to working together and can formally join forces. Common concerns include the data-driven growth of technology companies and the resulting difficulties faced by potential competitors entering their markets.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

Write to John D. McKinnon at john.mckinnon@wsj.com and Brent Kendall at brent.kendall@wsj.com.

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