Online Platforms under Scrutiny by U.S. Government
When Attorney General William Barr and the U.S. Justice Department announced it was opening an anti-trust investigation on the biggest players in the high tech universe last week, a virtual shudder must have been felt in Silicon Valley. The British media, too, covered the announcement widely, as did most international media.
According to Great Britain-based telegraph.co.uk, the Justice Department said it had received a number of complaints against big tech companies that include allegations aimed at Google and its surrounding search, social media and retail services, among others.
Big Tech responses includes claims that the investigation is purely politically driven. The investigation signals increasing anti-technology rhetoric in Washington, which had long been considered an ally of Silicon Valley, but elected officials from both sides of the aisle are calling for more oversight.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused technology companies of bias against conservatives, and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has pushed for breaking up large tech companies, which critics say have avoided the scrutiny of the law for too long.
“Without much more information, this sounds more like the politics that the antitrust division has been playing for the last couple of years,” said Larry Downes, a senior industry and innovation fellow at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. “They know antitrust law has not changed in 20 years.”
The DOJ most recently voiced anti-trust concerns about Facebook, which operates WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google-owner Alphabet, and which the FTC fined $5 billon, according to businessinsider.com’s Jennifer Huddleston. Huddleston said the DOJ can achieve oversight without crushing the tech companies or breaking them up.
The DOJ said in Tuesday’s release that it’s looking into competition, “stifled innovation” and the impact on consumers.
“Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” said Makan Delrahim, assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, in the statement. “The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”
Whether this is politics or just the DOJ investigating unfair market advantages, like Europe did, remains to be seen.
Google has already been dealt three antitrust fines from the EU totalling €8.2bn (£7.4bn) in the last three years reported The Telegraph. The EU found that Google abused its dominance in the smart phone market through its operating system, Android, and forced its AdSense customers to use only Google’s services. The European Commission also found it was unfairly promoting preferred retailers on Google Shopping. Google has appealed the EC’s fines.