Federal regulators launch Big Tech antitrust probe

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The government is now going after Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced plans to investigate Apple and Google for possibly violating America’s antitrust laws. Similarly, on Wednesday, Facebook confirmed that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had opened an inquiry into its alleged anticompetitive behavior.

Last month, The Burn-In reported that the two federal regulators agreed to work together to determine if America’s Big Tech firms are monopolies. As part of the pact, the DOJ decided to review Apple and Google’s operations. Conversely, the FTC planned to evaluate Amazon and Facebook’s business practices.

According to The New York Times, DOJ officials recently met with tech industry experts to assess how the iPhone maker and search engine became trillion-dollar brands. Furthermore, the agency wants to know if they utilized illegal practices to do so.

Escalation of Hostilities

The federal government’s antagonistic relationship with Silicon Valley began with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The public’s perception of Big Tech changed after Facebook confirmed that the now-defunct political consulting firm harvested data from nearly 90 million of its users last year. Afterward, political leaders, the media, and ordinary citizens started wondering if the tech corporations had too much power.

Those suspicions only increased as Facebook became mired in a series of scandals regarding its use of consumer information, data security practices, and role in disseminating false information.

Similarly, Google has faced a range of public relations challenges recently. A consortium of retailers accused the search engine of using its platform to enrich itself at the expense of brick-and-mortar sellers. Former Mozilla executives accused the company of undermining Firefox to benefit its Chrome web browser. Moreover, Bloomberg reported that the company’s YouTube subsidiary knowingly allowed harmful content to flourish to drive its advertising revenue.

Not to be outdone, Amazon has struggled with mounting scrutiny in the last year. Critics of the e-commerce giant have consistently slammed the company for maintaining substandard conditions for its workers. Researchers have also rebuked the corporation for selling problematic facial recognition technology to American law enforcement agencies. Moreover, the firm’s marketplaces are so inundated with fake product reviews that startups have developed tools to address the problem.

While Apple hasn’t battled image issues like its contemporaries, it has been embroiled in several controversies recently. In May, the Supreme Court ruled that the corporation can be subject to antitrust lawsuits because of business practices.

That same month, a group of Apple customers filed a class-action lawsuit against the multinational company for failing to protect their privacy. Furthermore, the European Commission announced that it would investigate the firm for using its platform to hurt rival music streamer Spotify.

What Happens Next

Big Tech’s recent missteps have been so significant and public that they’ve practically demanded regulatory action. Indeed, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple head Tim Cook have called for more industry scrutiny. Now, the DOJ and FTC are finally taking steps to hold the country’s most valuable brands accountable.

Also, criticism of the technology industry has been one of the few contemporary issues to unite conservatives and liberals. President Trump slammed Facebook and Google for holding anti-conservative bias while Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma.) argued that they are monopolies that should be broken up. As such, the federal government’s efforts to regulate Big Tech are likely to continue through the 2020 presidential election.

Notably, the FTC just settled its 16-month investigation into Facebook’s data handling practices with a $5 billion fine. But politicians, the media, and consumers view the record sanction as a slap on the wrist given the corporation’s size. As such, it’s hard to say what kind of judgment the FTC or DOJ can win that will satisfy the public’s desire for retribution.