State AGs partner with Justice Department to investigate anticompetitive tech mergers
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The collaboration was confirmed by Makan Delrahim, head of antitrust at the Department of Justice. Speaking at the Technology Policy Institute’s Aspen Forum in Colorado, Delrahim addressed the department’s investigation into previously approved acquisitions by large tech companies.
The investigation was first announced in July, after eight state attorneys general met with US AG William Barr to discuss the possibly anticompetitive behaviour of tech giants. The investigation will examine whether large technology companies had engaged in anticompetitive practices, with references to “search, social media, and some retail services online”. This is highly likely to indicate that Google, Amazon and Facebook are under scrutiny, with the possible inclusion of Apple.
Delrahim said that the questions being raised include whether some of the companies acquired were “nascent competitors that may or may not have been wise to approve”; the department will not only be looking at the impact of acquisitions on pricing, but also on innovation and quality. Delrahim added that the investigators would be “taking a broad look, and we look at it with no preconceived agendas”.
In the near future, the department will seek documents and other evidence. Delrahim said that this could involve demanding documentation from the companies under investigation. There is no set timeline for the investigation.
Delrahim said that the Department of Justice was cooperating with a bipartisan group of state AGs on the investigation: “I think it’s safe to say more than a dozen. A couple of dozen state attorneys general have expressed an interest in the subject matter.”
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that more than a dozen states are expected to announce in the coming weeks that they will be launching a formal probe into these tech giants.
It is not known which state attorneys general are working with the Department of Justice on the probe. However, the New York AG’s office stated this week that it was continuing to “engage in bipartisan conversations about the unchecked power of large tech companies”, while the AG of North Carolina is said by his office to be involved in “bipartisan conversations about this issue”.
Democratic Representative David Cicilline, who heads the House of Representatives’ antitrust probe, commented: “Big tech platforms aren’t going to regulate themselves. I’m pleased that several state attorneys general are now conducting their own investigation into the dominance of these firms.”
Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies are under intense scrutiny by regulators and lawmakers in the US, EU and elsewhere over concerns related to alleged anticompetitive behaviour, privacy violations, and failure to suppress viral deception and other deeply inappropriate content. In July, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had agreed on a $5bn (£4bn) settlement with Facebook over its failure to prevent data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica from harvesting 87 million unwitting users’ data to build psychologically-targeted political advertising tools used in the Trump campaign. Facebook is also facing significant pushback against its plan to roll out a new digital currency called ‘Libra’.
Several leading Democrats seeking the candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have proposed that they would reverse anticompetitive mergers in the tech sector.
This article first appeared on eandt.theiet.org
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