US government launches antitrust probe into Big Tech

24 Jul 2019

Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

The US Department of Justice has announced that it will investigate whether major online platforms may have engaged in anticompetitive behaviour.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has announced that it is launching an antitrust investigation into “market-leading online platforms”, examining whether these companies may have engaged in practices that “reduced competition, stifled innovation or otherwise harmed consumers”.

As of yet, the firms being investigated have gone unnamed, though a statement released by the DoJ’s antitrust division alluded to online retail services, online search functions and social media, which suggests that tech giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook could be in the department’s crosshairs.

Amid the news and the speculation surrounding which firms had run afoul of authorities, the stock prices of some major tech companies declined. Facebook shares fell 1.8pc while Amazon’s stock took a 1.1pc hit.

“Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” said assistant attorney general Makan Delrahim of the antitrust division. “The department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”

Antitrust investigations

This announcement comes hot on the heels of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) meting out a historic fine of $5bn to Facebook over various privacy violations.

In the EU, it is expected that European commissioner for competition Margrethe Vestager will finish off her five-year term by opening up an antitrust probe into internet and e-commerce giant Amazon over its use of marketplace data.

The European Commission also recently fined Qualcomm €242m as punishment for selling 3G chips at predatory prices to push one of its competitors out of the market.

Since the ’70s, the consensus within antitrust circles has been that so long as consumers were getting a good deal, companies would not come under federal investigation. These recent developments, however, seem to point to that argument falling apart and the definition of consumer harm being redefined.

Various social media apps on smartphone. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic