Sep 9, 2019

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

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Monday, a large group of state attorneys general led by Texas's Ken Paxton is expected to announced a new antitrust probe into Google, adding to the lengthening list of investigations into the big internet companies.

Why it matters: Big tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are now facing numerous state and federal probes into their practices. These companies have historically enjoyed wide regulatory freedom in the U.S., but lawmakers and regulators want to change that — and antitrust law gives government its most powerful tools to penalize, regulate or even break up American corporations.

Here's a quick overview of the many government inquiries the companies face, from antitrust to privacy and other concerns.

Facebook:

Alphabet/Google:

Amazon:

Apple:

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NY attorney general talks Facebook with DOJ

New York State Attorney General Letitia James. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, heads to Washington Monday to discuss the state-level antitrust investigation of Facebook she's leading with top Justice Department officials, according to a person familiar with her plans.

Why it matters: The meeting could be a precursor to the DOJ joining the Facebook investigation, which is led by New York and includes 7 other state attorneys general, plus D.C.

The big picture: James has been at the forefront of lawsuits challenging the Trump administration over immigration, environmental rollbacks and other policies, and she is also at odds with the Justice Department over the T-Mobile-Sprint merger. If she and Trump's DOJ can find common cause investigating Big Tech's power, that would be one more sign of the issue's bipartisan appeal.

Details: James is expected to meet with Attorney General William Barr, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Associate Attorney General for antitrust Makan Delrahim, the person familiar with the plans said. A bipartisan group of state attorneys general is also expected to join the meeting, the person said.

  • Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson were part of the group of state officials in Washington for the meeting, according to their offices.
  • States investigating Google for anticompetitive practices —  including Texas and New York — sent representatives to meet with top DOJ officials in July to discuss tech antitrust issues. 
  • The Justice Department and FTC split jurisdiction over major tech companies for competition concerns earlier this year, with the FTC taking up an antitrust investigation into Facebook. But, as Bloomberg reported, Barr prodded his agency to begin its own Facebook inquiry, prompting concerns from both FTC chairman Joe Simons and Republican Sen. Mike Lee about overlapping investigations.
  • The state attorneys general also discussed the Facebook investigation at the FTC today, according to a spokesperson for the New York AG’s office.
  • The states met with FTC chairman Joe Simons, some of the commissioners, and staff from the Bureau of Competition, an FTC spokesperson said.

What they're saying: “We have grave concerns over potential anticompetitive practices by large tech companies," James said in a statement. "We are concerned that Facebook’s actions may have put consumer data at risk of data breaches, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, and increased the price of advertising, so we will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to protect consumers and protect competition.”

  • A Justice Department spokesperson declined comment.

The bottom line: Pressure on Facebook and other tech companies is building from state capitals to Washington, where lawmakers and regulators are conducting their own investigations into the power of tech.

  • A move by the states and DOJ to join forces would mirror the antitrust investigation of Microsoft in the '90s, in which the Justice Department and several state attorneys general together sued the company.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from James and details about the state attorneys general meeting with the FTC.

Top regulators battle to crack down on Big Tech giants

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.

Go deeperArrowSep 17, 2019

Facebook and Google slated to face more antitrust probes

Photos: Denis Charlet/AFP/ Daniel Reinhardt/picture alliance via Getty Images

State attorneys general are expected to formally launch antitrust investigations this week into Facebook and Alphabet’s Google.

Background: These are separate from ongoing investigations by the Justice Department and the FTC, which have been looking into the 2 mega companies since last year, plus ongoing inquiries from the FBI and SEC.

Go deeperArrowSep 9, 2019