DOJ announces investigation into big tech

The Department of Justice announced that its Antitrust Division is reviewing how the world’s largest technology companies have gotten that way and whether their business practices reduced competition or hurt consumers.

In a statement the DOJ said that it will consider “widespread concerns that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media and some retail services online.”

The language appears to be targeting Alphabet (the parent company of search giant Google), Amazon and Facebook specifically.

Last week representatives from technology companies were hauled in before Congress to testify about their companies’ policies and practices. They were met with withering criticism from both the left and the right sides of the aisle over their businesses practices.

Amazon was taken to task for its data collection and private label practices; Google for its ad business and manipulation of search results; and Facebook for just about everything involving the scope and breadth of its business or planned businesses.

Against that backdrop it’s no wonder the Department of Justice is getting in on the action.

“Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division. “The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”

The U.S. government has already taken some fairly extraordinary (albeit toothless) steps to bring big technology companies to heel. Earlier this month Facebook was slapped with a $5 billion fine for violating the terms of its consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission.

The fine, which is the largest ever leveled against a technology company, represents a fraction of Facebook’s revenue and was a watered-down version of penalties that some members of the FTC were looking to bring against the social media giant.

The agency was hoping to hold Mark Zuckerberg personally accountable and do more to limit practices at Facebook that are viewed by many senators as deficient when it comes to protection of privacy and personal data.

“If the FTC is seen as traffic police handing out speeding tickets to companies profiting off breaking the law, then Facebook and others will continue to push the boundaries,” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley wrote in a joint letter to the FTC earlier in the month.