The antitrust scrutiny of tech giants that began during the Trump era will only intensify this fall as Big Tech critics Lina Khan, Tim Wu and Jonathan Kanter take the lead on competition policy and enforcement in the Biden administration, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.
Why it matters: Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple face threats from federal regulators, Congress, state attorneys general and EU authorities.
- That's four companies each being challenged from four directions: No wonder the antitrust arena can feel like multi-dimensional chess.
As the fall season looms, here's what the game board looks like.
The Federal Trade Commission, now led by Khan, renewed its legal effort challenging Facebook's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp in August. The FTC accuses Facebook of buying rivals or using anticompetitive tactics to stymie them in order to squelch competition.
The European Commission launched an antitrust investigation of Facebook Marketplace in June over concerns that Facebook's collection of data from advertisers gives it an unfair advantage.
- The U.K. announced a similar investigation in June that also focuses on Facebook's online dating service.
In Congress, the House Judiciary Committee narrowly approved a slate of tech antitrust bills, including one that would force more interoperability and another that would bar big companies from snapping up rivals through acquisitions.
The FTC has been investigating Amazon's business practices since the Trump administration, and is also digging into the e-commerce giant's plan to buy Hollywood studio MGM.
- Amazon wants Khan to recuse herself from FTC's Amazon cases, given her previous advocacy of action against the company.
The European Commission accused Amazon last November of violating antitrust rules by harnessing data it collects from third-party sellers to shape the products it offers that compete with those merchants.
In Congress, Amazon faces the potential for drastic changes to its business model through the House antitrust bills that would bar it from both operating its online marketplaces and selling goods on them.
- Amazon is warning sellers that they could bear the brunt of the cost if such legislation is enacted — and hoping those sellers will call their representatives.
The Justice Department and several state attorneys general filed multiple antitrust lawsuits against Google last year, with the DOJ accusing Google of an illegal monopoly in online search and search advertising.
In Congress, Google faces threats from the House antitrust bills as well as legislation in both the House and the Senate that would curb its power over the Google Play Store.
- State attorneys general also sued Google over how it operates its app store.
The European Commission opened its own investigation in June into Google's power in the online advertising ecosystem.
- Previous European antitrust investigations into Google have led to billions of dollars in fines.
In Congress, Apple is facing proposed legislation in both the House and the Senate that would limit its control over how it runs its App Store.
- Apple recently offered some concessions on its App Store policies to settle a class-action lawsuit (see below).
The European Commission, acting on a complaint by Spotify, accused Apple in April of violating antitrust laws by requiring rival music streamers to use its in-app payment system and follow other rules.
The Justice Department is reportedly also investigating Apple for anticompetitive practices.