The long summer entrance for Congress is finally well and truly over. The House Judging Committee has accelerated the fall season and has demanded huge piles of documentation from Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google as Big Tech's antitrust probe grows.
The committee launched the bipartisan investigation in June, seeking in part to determine "whether existing laws are sufficient" for the task of regulating the sprawling tech titans that wield power in the 21
The tech sector is facing scrutiny from all sides at the moment. The House investigation is separate and different from the various antitrust investigations against the same four companies as the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and almost all of the states that are currently underway.
"There is growing evidence that a handful of companies have come to capture a large portion of online commerce and communications," said committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (DN.Y.) in a written statement. The answers should give the committee a "better understanding" of how much market power the companies have, he added, "how they use that market power, whether they use their market power in ways that have harmed consumers and competition, and how Congress should respond."  An antitrust probe is not just a study of whether a company is a monopoly. Being the dominant player in a market is not contrary to the law. Esven in a very competitive environment, someone at all times will be at the forefront.
Rather, probes are looking for evidence of competitive behavior: tactics that keep you on top of the pile unfair, or underhanded strategies that you use to beat potential competitors before they can become a threat. Critics of Facebook, for example, argue that the company buys startups that can eventually compete with it, and then either integrate the companies' products or run them. Similarly, Apple uses data from App Store sales to choose the kind of apps and features it will develop internally, and Amazon faces an antitrust probe in Europe over the way it competes against third-party marketers using its platform.
The extensive list of questions asked to the four companies could yield some fascinating results. On their own, the letters already make it very clear how massive and spreading footprints many of these companies have – they also clarify the implication that competitors are at best trying to stumble around the four metaphorical eight-ton gorillas sitting on the field.  For example, each of the four companies is asked to list the top 10 competitors for several of their services, including an explanation of why each unit on the list constitutes competition. Coming up with 10 viable competitors to the core of the Facebook app, which boasts 244 million users in the US and Canada and 2.4 billion worldwide, can be challenging even for Facebook's experienced executives. From an outsider's viewpoint, meanwhile, Facebook Messenger's top competition may include services such as WhatsApp – which Facebook has owned since 2014.
The committee also requests access to more than ten years of communication to or from top executives at all four companies, regarding dozens of topics each. For example, Amazon's list includes questions about Amazon Web Services, the company's third-party retail market, consumer data, contract agreements, sorting and ranking algorithms, Amazon Prime and several other issues.
All companies are also requested to provide communications regarding any lawsuits filed in the United States regarding claims of competitive conduct over the past 10 years, as well as "any prior investigation or litigation involving a U.S. or foreign authority, including U.S. Attorneys. general offices, over the last ten years "linked to allegations that the company" engaged in anti-competitive practices or otherwise violated antitrust laws. "This communication alone is likely to generate countless data breaches in response, as the companies are not only facing current US antitrust investigations ; they have also encountered previous probes both in their home country and elsewhere.
example. the FTC has been considering antitrust action against Google for much of a decade. In 2012, an internal memo circulated to all five commissioners who strongly recommended launching an antitrust suit against Google for abusing its dominance, even though the commission ultimately decided in 2013 not to indict.
Meanwhile, the European Union has fined Google billions of dollars for antitrust violations in just the last three years. In 2017, a $ 2.42 billion fine for the company directs buyers toward Google's search results platform, in 2018 a $ 4.34 billion fine for the company unfairly pushing its own apps ahead of its competitors, and earlier this year were two fines along with a further € 1.5 billion for fines for the company abusing its dominant position in the ad sales market. (For the sake of conversion, there is a billion euros of $ 1.11 billion here.)
The committee gave all four companies a deadline of October 14 to comply with information requests. You can read the full text of the four letters here: Amazon (PDF), Apple (PDF), Facebook (PDF) and Google (PDF).