Big Tech will soon be facing too many antitrust probes to count on one hand, as several states reportedly plan to launch their own joint investigation to accompany all of the federal inquiries already in progress.
Attorneys general for as many as 20 states may be joining forces to dig into whether the dominant tech players use their outsized market power unfairly to quash competition, sources tell the Wall Street Journal.
A bipartisan group of about a dozen attorneys general met with Department of Justice officials last month to discuss issues of competition in the tech sector, the WSJ reports, a meeting at which the AGs of Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, and Texas were present. The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James told the WSJ that the officials involved “have concerns over the control of personal data by large tech companies and will hold them accountable for anticompetitive practices that endanger privacy and consumer data.”
The specific targets of the probe were not named but are widely considered to include Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google—all of which are the targets of other antitrust probes, both in the US and abroad—at a minimum.
A crowded field
The WSJ writes that the rumored probe could “dovetail” nicely with existing antitrust review efforts underway by the DOJ, which itself is only one of the many agencies digging into tech’s competitive practices.
The DOJ last month publicly confirmed its antitrust division was looking at the widespread “concerns that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed” about “market-leading online platforms.” While the agency didn’t name names, earlier reports suggest that the DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission agreed to split antitrust oversight, with the DOJ digging into Apple and Google, and the FTC looking at Amazon and Facebook.
Facebook in July confirmed it was under antitrust investigation by the FTC. Company cofounder Chris Hughes has been very publicly calling for the company to break up, including via a reported roadshow to state and federal regulators explaining why Facebook is too big and should split.
FTC Chairman Joseph Simons yesterday told the Financial Times that Facebook’s current plans to merge WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram’s messaging features into a unified platform could make a breakup much more challenging. “If they’re maintaining separate business structures and infrastructure, it’s much easier to have a divestiture in that circumstance than in where they’re completely enmeshed and all the eggs are scrambled,” Simons said.
Amazon, meanwhile, is facing a growing chorus of retailers asking for US regulators to join Germany, Austria, Italy, and the European Union, which have all launched separate antitrust probes into Amazon’s behavior. The European Commission has also been busy with Google, which it has fined billions of dollars four separate times in the past few years for violations of monopoly law.
If that weren’t enough, Congress also launched its own series of antitrust hearings in June looking at “competition in digital markets.” The investigation, which has bipartisan backing, recently started asking about Apple’s position on consumers’ right to repair their own devices.