Lawyers ask 4 large technology companies for documents in antitrust probe

WASHINGTON (AP) – Lawyers investigating Big Tech's market dominance on Friday asked Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple for a wide range of documents that marked a step forward in Congressional bipartisan probe of the companies.

Letters went out to the four companies of the House Judiciary Committee leaders and its antitrust subcommittee, which conducted a comprehensive antitrust investigation of the companies and their impact on competition and consumers. Lawmakers seek a detailed and wide range of documents related to companies 'sprawling business, including top executives' internal communications.

The move comes as the investigation of the major technology companies deepens and expands across the federal government and the United States of America and abroad. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are conducting competition investigations of the companies, and state attorneys from both major political parties have opened antitrust investigations by Google and Facebook. The probe from Google has drawn participation from 50 states and territories.

"We must act if we see them breaking the law," Rohit Chopra, one of the FTC commissioners, said Friday in an interview on CNBC. Chopra, a Democrat, would not confirm the names of companies that may be under investigation, but he said the agency is consulting closely with the Justice Department and state attorneys as the work continues.

Also on Friday, the EU's fierce chief of competition indicated that she is looking at expanding personal data regulations, dropping a first clue as to how she plans to use new powers against technology companies. Margrethe Vestager said that although Europeans have control over their own data through the EU's world-leading data privacy rules, they do not address issues stemming from the way companies use other people's data "to draw conclusions about me or to undermine democracy." [1[ads1]9659002] The House legislators set an October 14 deadline for the companies to submit the documents.

Facebook, Apple and Amazon spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. Google cited a recent blog post by its senior vice president for global affairs, Kent Walker, saying that the company expects more questions from investigations and that "We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so."

The companies have stated that they will cooperate fully with the congressional inquiry.

Chairman of the Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler, DN.Y., said the documents will help the committee understand "whether they are using their market power in ways that have harmed consumers and competition and how Congress should respond."

The letters went to the CEOs of the four companies: Larry Page of Google's parent company Alphabet Inc .; Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook; Jeff Bezos of Amazon; and Tim Cook of Apple. They were signed by Nadler; Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, Judiciary Select Republicans; Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., Who heads the subcommittee on antitrust leaders leading the investigation; and rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, subcommittee senior Republican.

Cicilline has said that Congress and antitrust regulators wrongly allowed the big tech companies to regulate themselves, allowing them to operate out of control, dominate the internet and stifle online innovation and entrepreneurship. He has suggested that legislative changes may be needed, although he has called for breaking up the companies as a last resort.

During a hearing by the antitrust panel in July, leaders of the four companies pushed back against legislators' accusations that they operate as a monopoly, and laid out ways they say they are still competing fiercely against rivals in the market.

Cicilline said he was dissatisfied with the answers the leaders gave to lawmakers' questions, calling his testimony "elusive."

The letter to Facebook asks for a breakdown of the company's profits since 2016 on the top products – including Facebook Ads, Instagram and WhatsApp. It also seeks communications from Zuckerberg and other top executives related to a California lawsuit in which plaintiffs accuse the company of misleading smashing of thousands of apps in 2015, whose businesses relied on its platform. Among other internal communications the letter is seeking are those related to six messaging, video and photo sharing apps, especially as Facebook has interrupted.

Legislators seek Facebook executives' emails about the decision to deny any specific apps or categories of apps access to Facebook data about or shared by users. This is a concern because critics say the company intentionally relocated from other online apps, allowing it to gather nearly 2.5 billion users without any clear competitor.

Alphabet's letter is seeking detailed financial information and names of leading competitors for Google's vast operations, including search, YouTube video service, Android mobile phone operating system, and Gmail. Internal communications that lawmakers are seeking to include include Google's acquisition of online advertising company DoubleClick in 2007 – which critics often point to as central to Google's advertising dominance.

For Amazon, lawmakers search for financial data and competitor names for Amazon Web Services, smart speakers Alexa and Echo, Amazon Prime, Whole Foods and other properties, as well as their online store, on-demand movie and music streaming, digital advertising and cloud computing operations. A 2018 deal with Apple to sell Apple products on Amazon and to limit the resellers who can sell Apple products on Amazon are among the decisions being investigated.

Financial information and competitors are sought for Apple's App Store, iPhone, iPad, Mac, Siri, Apple Pay, Apple TV and Apple Watch. The lawmakers are interested in Apple's decision to remove from the App Store or impose restrictions on some screen time and parental control apps, and in the App Store algorithm that determines the rank order of search apps on the site, among other areas.


AP technology writer Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.

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