The government's pursuit of major technology companies became more personal and political on Friday, as federal lawmakers demanded documents, emails and other communications from dozens of top executives.
Members of the House Committee investigating the market power and behavior of companies sent letters directly to Jeff Bezos from Amazon, Tim Cook from Apple, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook and Larry Page of Google.
The requests called for all communications to and from executives at these companies, including eight at Amazon, 14 at Apple, 15 at Facebook, and 1
With the request, posted online, lawmakers sent a not-so-subtle point that leaders would be held accountable for the responses, and that the investigation continues to play out publicly. This has the potential to damage brand reputation in the eyes of customers.
It was assumed that lawmakers would require internal corporate documents and communications as part of their antitrust investigations. But these requirements are often placed on the company's top lawyer. And the committee asked for all communications related to a long list of business actions, from companies purchased to deal with potential rivals. This suggests that the congressional staff has done their homework.
Similar inquiries are being made by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general in dozens of states.
House investigation, like those of the federal agencies. and pronunciation, is really just beginning in earnest. How far they will go, what they will reveal, and whether it will, whether accusations will stand in court, are all uncertain.
Inquiries for individual businesses are complex, as tech giants span a range of digital markets including internet search, advertising, e-commerce and social media. And the companies are likely to resist some of the inquiries from the House Committee and other government investigators, claiming that complying will mean handing over corporate secrets.
By releasing information requests, the House Committee gave a glimpse of the depth of the investigation that the companies will meet and set the limits for investigation that are being followed. And the evidence it collects can also feed the other investigations.
In response to the House Committee's information requests, company representatives mainly pointed to statements from previous ones they have already made. The companies have consistently said that they will cooperate with federal and state investigations and that they would try to demonstrate that they operate in dynamic, highly competitive markets.
In a statement, Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, who chairs the House Anti-Trust Subcommittee, called the document "an important milestone" at the fact-gathering stage for his investigation.
Mr. Cicilline also emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House effort. The letters to top chiefs are signed by Mr. Cicilline, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat in New York and the leader of the Judiciary Committee, but also the Republican members of the Judiciary and Antitrust Subcommittee, Doug Collins of Georgia and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.
The formal requests for information begin with cover letters to the top executives, saying that investigators are investigating competition in online markets and "whether dominant firms engage in competitive behavior." The letters are accompanied by detailed lists of documents and communications that were sought from the named leaders.
How much of the investigative work becomes public as the inquiries progress is unclear. Information requests and public statements are one thing. But it's very different from later stages as investigators try to lay the groundwork for a case – and don't want their hand at a potential defendant.
Such work, gathering more documents, taking depositions and mounting evidence and building the narrative of corporate abuse is best done privately. Large antitrust investigations usually last for many months or years.
Sometimes the companies themselves provide information about an investigation. For example, Google said last Friday that the parent company Alphabet had received a mandatory request for information from the Department of Justice about the company's previous antitrust investigations.
The house's document requests show that the staff has studied the companies carefully.
For example, the request sent to Google seeks communications to or from top executives on a variety of corporate features, including Google's acquisition of DoubleClick in 2008 and AdMob in 2011. These acquisitions helped build Google's huge and lucrative advertising business.  But House investigators want to see leaders' communication about Google's practice: A request is for communication about its policy of "whether non-Google companies can offer competing ad networks" and other services.
That part of the House request is reflected in the state investigation of Google. The Texas state prosecutor's office, which is leading the state's pursuit of the company, sent Google a long demand this week for information about its advertising business, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
But the investigation into the house is broader. The request also affects other businesses, including smartphone software, and seeks information about Google's purchase of Android in 2005.
The house requests are similarly detailed for the other companies. The Facebook document asks for extensive internal information on the acquisition of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, which were potentially new competitors until they were purchased.