The US Congress will begin a bipartisan investigation into whether large tech companies are using their power to stifle competition, the House Judiciary Committee said Monday, according to Bloomberg. Hearings will be led by the Antitrust Committee and will examine competition in digital markets, whether “dominant firms” are suppressing competition, and whether current policies are effective.
The committee’s chairman, Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, said in a statement:
“There is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications. Given the growing tide of concentration and consolidation across our economy, it is vital that we investigate the current state of competition in digital markets and the health of the antitrust laws.”
The investigation comes as tech companies face increased pressure from both the public and from other federal inquiries. After several high-profile scandals on the handling of user data, a cultural shift in what was once a hands-off attitude toward Silicon Valley now threatens to translate into concrete policy changes.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly opening antitrust inquiries into Facebook and Amazon, and the Justice Department is investigating Google and scrutinizing Apple.
The committee’s top Republican member, Georgia Representative Doug Collins, echoed calls to determine “whether the market remains competitive” and said:
“Our bipartisan look at competition in the digital markets gives us the chance to answer these questions. And, if necessary, to take action.”
“It has been building to a fever pitch of over the last six to 12 months. There’s general unease these companies have too much power, and it really crosses the political aisle,” according to Rutgers Law Professor Michael Carrier.
Following years of minimal oversight, the investigations threatens to force vast changes in the way the companies operate. This could include breaking up some of the largest firms.
Shares of the major tech companies fell following the announcement. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, saw shares fall 6.1 percent, while Amazon’s fell 4.6 and Facebook’s fell 7.5 percent in their steepest decline since last summer, shortly after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
In 2013, the FTC closed an investigation into whether Google was using its search engine dominance to stifle competition, without pursuing further action. Although the company agreed to some voluntary changes, they largely continued business as usual. Given the way the political climate surrounding Silicon Valley has shifted in recent years, observers have suggested they’re likely to face tougher scrutiny this time around.