Sep 17, 2019

Top regulators battle to crack down on Big Tech giants

Expand chart
Data: Axios research; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

As investigations into tech giants' possible anti-competitive behavior multiply, authorities are beginning to tussle over turf — adding a new potential for discord to the regulatory chess game.

Why it matters: These probes are legally complex and historically difficult to pull off. There's bipartisan support right now for checking Big Tech's power, but the companies have enormous resources and remain popular, and fighting among regulators can only hamper their work.

Driving the news: Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joe Simons has written a letter to the Justice Department's antitrust division complaining about the DOJ's behavior in handling disagreements over which agency has the authority to probe Facebook, The Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) intends to bring up the letter and address the issue at a Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee hearing Tuesday, his office confirmed to Axios.

Be smart: Both agencies have clashed over who has jurisdiction to investigate, particularly Facebook.

  • Earlier this year the two agencies agreed that they would divide up investigations into the companies, with the DOJ taking on Alphabet (the parent company of Google) and Apple, and the FTC looking into Facebook and Amazon.
  • Tensions apparently rose in July when the DOJ announced another sweeping investigation into Big Tech platforms for their dominance, a move which reportedly had the FTC concerned that the DOJ would be stepping on its turf to investigate Facebook.

The big picture: A growing list of media investigations are presenting evidence of tech platforms abusing their dominance to promote their own products and services.

  • On Monday, the Journal reported that Amazon has changed its search function to more prominently feature products that are more profitable for the company. Amazon denies the report, saying it features products customers want, "regardless of whether they are our own brands or products offered by our selling partners."
  • Last week, a New York Times investigation revealed that Apple-owned apps often top rivals in its own App Store.
  • Friday, the House Judiciary Committee sent Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon lengthy document requests, including executives' private communications, for its own investigation into the companies' practices.

The bottom line: Multiple probes can help regulators cover the vast territory they have set out to explore. But any time and resources they spend fighting each other will only benefit the companies they are seeking to hold accountable.

Go deeper: The growing list of U.S. government inquiries into Big Tech

Editor's note: This story has been updated since publication.

Go deeper

Updated 43 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 5,885,490— Total deaths: 363,031 — Total recoveries — 2,468,011Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 1,743,235 — Total deaths: 102,686 — Total recoveries: 406,446 — Total tested: 15,646,041Map.
  3. Public health: Hydroxychloroquine prescription fills exploded in March —How the U.S. might distribute a vaccine.
  4. 2020: North Carolina asks RNC if convention will honor Trump's wish for no masks or social distancing.
  5. Business: Fed chair Powell says coronavirus is "great increaser" of income inequality.
  6. 1 sports thing: NCAA outlines plan to get athletes back to campus.

Trump says he spoke with George Floyd's family

President Trump in the Rose Garden on May 29. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump told reporters on Friday that he had spoken with the family of George Floyd, a black resident of Minneapolis who died after a police officer knelt on his neck on Monday.

Driving the news: Former Vice President Joe Biden said via livestream a few hours earlier that he, too, had spoken with Floyd's family. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee implored white Americans to consider systemic injustices against African Americans more broadly, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports.

Former Minneapolis police officer in custody

A man rides a bicycle up to a law enforcement checkpoint today in Minneapolis. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The people of Minneapolis who took to the streets to protest got results Friday afternoon, but the nation will still enter the weekend on edge.

Why it matters: It's hard to imagine fired police officer Derek Chauvin being arrested so quickly on third-degree murder charges without this week's protests.