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US to open antitrust review of big tech firms

July 24, 2019

Technology giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple are now the subject of a US federal antitrust investigation. The Justice Department is looking into whether large tech companies have harmed their users.

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Image: Getty Images/AFP/L. Bonaventure

The United States Justice Department said on Tuesday that it was opening a large-scale antitrust investigation of big US tech firms.

The probe will look into "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," a Justice Department statement read.

It did not refer to any specific companies, but the Justice Department said the review would consider concerns raised about "search, social media, and some retail services online" — an apparent reference to Google's parent company Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Apple.

"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, who is in charge of the department's antitrust division. "The department's antitrust review will explore these important issues."

More scrutiny

The investigation comes as a growing number of US lawmakers have called for the stricter regulation, or even the breaking up, of large tech companies.

Traditionally in the United States, antitrust regulators have only sought to stop major acquisitions involving two big companies, such as the lawsuit against a merger of the telecommunications companies AT&T and Time Warner.

Calls for regulation have also intensified after a series of scandals involving compromised user data, the most notable one being the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which the British consulting firm harvested personal data from millions of people's Facebook accounts.

Additionally, Google could be facing a hefty fine from US regulators for failing to protect children from harmful content and data collection on their YouTube video service. Amazon has also drawn criticism for its dominating role in e-commerce. 

Both companies have also been targeted by regulators in the European Union. The EU has handed down a total of $9.5 billion (€8.5 billion) in fines to Google over the past two years and is currently investigating whether Amazon misused merchant data to gain a competitive edge. Apple and Facebook have also been scrutinized in Europe over alleged breaches of competition, tax and data rules.

Shift - Living in the Digital Age

dv/se (AP, Reuters)

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