The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it will open a broad antitrust review into the country’s biggest tech companies.
The long-awaited antitrust review will focus on Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple and their dominance in internet search, social media, and retail. It will look at “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers,” the department wrote in a press release announcing the move.
“The Department’s Antitrust Division is conferring with and seeking information from the public, including industry participants who have direct insight into competition in online platforms, as well as others,” the Justice Department wrote.
The review will go further than earlier plans made in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commisssion (FTC), according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited Justice Department officials. The four companies could now face antitrust pressure from both agencies, whereas the departments had previously wanted to split up the companies between then.
Officials will probe how the biggest Silicon Valley companies and grown and expanded into new areas over the years, as well as what kind of power comes with having a user base of hundreds of millions of people.
“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 department’s Antitrust Division in a statement. “The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”
It’s not clear where this could lead – though a worst-case-scenario for Silicon Valley would be the government using its antitrust powers to break up the big tech firms. That’s unlikely – though the review could lead to further, more specific investigations looking at actions by individual companies. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
The Justice Department is not alone in looking at potential antitrust issues. The House Antitrust Subcommittee opened its own investigation into Big Tech in June. Some presidential candidates, most notably Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have called for breaking up the nation’s biggest tech companies.
Asked about the Justice Department’s move, a spokesman for Google pointed to part of the testimony by Adam Cohen, the company’s director of economic policy, before the House Judiciary Committee last week:
“In the face of intense competition, we are proud of our record of continued innovation,” Cohen said. “We have helped reduce prices and expand choice for consumers and merchants in the U.S. and around the world. We have created new competition in many sectors, and new competitive pressures often lead to concerns from rivals. We have consistently shown how our business is designed and operated to benefit our customers.”
We’ve reached out to Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, and will update this story if we hear back from them.