Jul 23, 2019

Justice Department opens wide new antitrust probe of tech platforms

Attorney General William Barr. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Justice Department said Tuesday it had launched an inquiry into the market power of major online platforms and whether they "are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers."

Why it matters: While the announcement mentioned no specific companies, its reference to looking at concerns about "search, social media, and some retail services online" would appear to point towards Google, Facebook and Amazon.

What they're saying: “Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” said Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general who leads the department's Antitrust Division.

Yes, but: The specifics of the inquiry are still unclear. So is its relationship to a reportedly planned Justice Department investigation into Google — part of a broader deal that split up antitrust authority over major tech companies between the agency and the Federal Trade Commission.

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The antitrust vise tightens on tech

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Justice Department's announcement Tuesday that it will probe the market power of online platforms is the latest sign of deepening trouble in Washington for major tech companies.

Why it matters: Antitrust action is one of the most significant steps a government can take to rein in a company — and Justice's announcement is the kind that can kick off years-long probes.

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Tech regulators put to the test

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The backlash against giant tech companies is stressing the public institutions tasked with examining their power, as participants, observers and critics question whether regulators have the skill, will and authority to check corporate forces.

Why it matters: The machinery of antitrust regulation will process the broader conversation about tech's role in society through the mill of American politics and law — and some wonder whether it's up to the task.

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Podcast: Big Tech has a D.C. glitch

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an antitrust review that could sweep up Amazon, Google and Facebook. Dan and Axios tech policy reporter David McCabe dig in.

Go deeper: The antitrust vise tightens on tech

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