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US DOJ Launches Antitrust Review of Amazon, Facebook, Other Tech Giants

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced this week that the Department’s Antitrust Division is reviewing “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 investigation will look into large technology companies with online services, including Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook.

The DOJ noted in a press release that over the past few years, concerns about search, social media, advertising-related tracking technologies and the practices of some online retail companies have grown significantly.

Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division said: 

“Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands.”

This Isn't Tech Giants' First Antitrust Rodeo

Some of these tech giants have already been involved in other antitrust cases. For instance, Google was reviewed in 2011, and the FTC’s investigators ended up recommending antitrust action against the company over their findings, which included anti-competitive tactics that allegedly led to the death of Google Maps competitor Skyhook. However, Google escaped an antitrust lawsuit at the last minute, with FTC Chairman at the time Jon Leibowit ruling against the lawsuit.

Google wasn’t so fortunate in the European Union (EU), where the European Commission launched not one, but three antitrust cases against the company related to its shopping comparison service, Android domination and Google Ads' anti-competitive practices.

Facebook’s largest privacy scandal exploded last year with the revelations about its relationship with Cambridge Analytica, a firm that exploited Facebook’s data APIs to build political profiles on users and manipulate them through ads.

The FTC has now found that Facebook violated its previous settlement with the FTC on multiple occasions, including when it lied to users about facial recognition being turned off and when it was asking users for phone numbers for “security purposes” and then using those numbers for advertising purposes.

The DOJ may also review Amazon’s e-commerce practices. Meanwhile, the EU has recently announced its own antitrust investigation into Amazon, accusing the company of anti-competitive tactics against sellers of its own platform, as well as data collection practices that may violate the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The Supreme Court recently ruled that Apple can be sued by its own customers  (and not just iOS developers, as Apple would have preferred) over antitrust issues connected to its App Store. The Supreme Court said that Apple’s 30% fee on each application is an abuse of monopoly power, because the fee is passed down to its customers, inflating prices.

Usually, it's the FTC that prosecutes antitrust cases; the DOJ hasn't had a high-profile antitrust case since it prosecuted Microsoft in 2011. This could be read in different ways: perhaps the DOJ is as serious about these cases as it was about the Microsoft case. Or maybe it's trying to gain points with a public growing weary of the power of tech giants. 

  • NightHawkRMX
    I think the real issue with these sites is the use of tracking services for advertisement.

    These companies provide no way to disable these tracking features and automatically opt you into this tracking.
    Reply
  • DookieDraws
    Comcast needs to be brought back down to earth too. Tired of hearing about all the junk they're getting away with.
    Reply
  • NightHawkRMX
    DookieDraws said:
    Comcast needs to be brought back down to earth too. Tired of hearing about all the junk they're getting away with.
    Like raising my rates constantly?
    Reply
  • kenjitamura
    Usually, it's the FTC that prosecutes antitrust cases; the DOJ hasn't had a high-profile antitrust case since it prosecuted Microsoft in 2011. This could be read in different ways: perhaps the DOJ is as serious about these cases as it was about the Microsoft case. Or maybe it's trying to gain points with a public growing weary of the power of tech giants.

    The DOJ is very serious about these cases but not for any altruistic pro-consumer reasoning. Anyone who has been keeping tabs on the political climate knows the exact reason that this issue has become the center of attention. Likewise it means that the tech giants know very well how to bury these investigations: Stop banning far/alt right commentators.

    The tech giants are definitely a monopoly and are hurting consumers so I'm all for busting them up. But the DOJ is interested in this for the wrong reason and it's going to make it very easy for the tech giants to dangle some bait, that won't harm their marketing approaches, to kill off the investigations.
    Reply
  • dorsai
    It'll be very easy to see if the tech giants are playing games to hide their activity...a simple Google search on any given politician tells the whole story. If you search on Pres Trump as an obvious example and get nothing but negative CNN and NYT articles it's very hard to say Google isn't manipulating searches for political reasons...especially when other search engines like Duckduckgo yield completely different results using the same search terms. I could care less which political party is in power...what I care about is the system being fair to all players in the game so they win on merit and not ideology. Breaking up the obvious monopolies held by companies like Google and Facebook which have vast control over modern media and can bury or elevate news stories at will is long past due.
    Reply