FOR THE WEEK OF JUNE 10, 2019
Congress, business regulators and Justice Department will look into whether four tech firms are too big and powerful
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Federal regulators, law enforcers and House members plan to look into whether four of America's largest technology firms are too powerful and limit competition. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is preparing to scrutinize Amazon and Facebook, while the Justice Department will conduct oversight of Apple and Google. The House Judiciary Committee also will hold hearings during the next year and a half, and require companies to deliver internal documents, as it considers if any monopoly-like practices harm consumers through artificially high prices or reduced choices. The committee, run by Democrats, last week promised "a top-to-bottom review of the market power held by giant tech platforms" -- the first of its type by Congress. "More and more questions have arisen about whether the market remains competitive," says a Republican on the panel, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia. Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., spoke of "a handful of gatekeepers" who control "key arteries of online commerce, content and communications."
The federal government has felt pressure to scrutinize the companies for some time as customers and politicians question their reach, influence and consumer safeguards. Here's one complaint: Spotify, a music-streaming app, says Apple -- which also streams music for a fee -- makes it harder for competitors to operate. Separately, the FTC already is investigating Facebook for possible privacy violations. "The scrutiny from Washington could lead to years of headaches for the companies," according to The New York Times, which mentions "the prospect of lawsuits to break up companies, hefty fines or new laws limiting their reach."
A Republican senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri, tweeted: "This is very big news, and overdue." The Washington Post frames the impact this way: "The broad, bipartisan focus on Silicon Valley presents the whole of the tech industry with what could be its greatest political test after years of enjoying relatively smooth sailing in the nation’s capital."
In Europe, by contrast, authorities have taken steps that brought $9 billion in fines for Google since 2016, and lesser penalties for other companies. "Federal enforcers have a lot of catching up to do," says Sarah Miller, deputy director of the Open Markets Institute, a nonprofit center that's critical of the tech giants. "Time will tell if this announcement leads to meaningful action."
Congressman says: "This is about how do we get competition back in this space. This is long overdue. . . . People have recognized there are some real dangers here." – Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.
Journalist says: "For all the talk about Silicon Valley's unprecedented power over our lives, it's not as though voters are banging down their representatives' doors to get them to break up the big tech companies." – Dylan Byers, NBC News senior media reporter
Presidential candidate says: "Big Tech has too much power over our economy and our democracy." – Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
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