The Latest: Agency promises ‘fair-minded’ probe on Big Tech

Technology
Mark Zuckerberg

FILE – In this April 10, 2018, file photo Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg takes his seat to testify before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, that the Federal Trade Commission will allege that Facebook misled users about its privacy practices as part of an expected settlement.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on U.S. regulation of technology companies (all times local):

6:25 p.m.

The Justice Department says its new review of Big Tech’s market power will delve into competition “in an objective and fair-minded manner.”

The agency says it wants to ensure that Americans have access to free markets and that companies compete on merits. The Justice Department says it will take into account the “widespread concerns” about social media, search engines and online retail services expressed by consumers, businesses and entrepreneurs. Its antitrust division is seeking information from the public, including those in the tech industry.

In a statement Tuesday, top antitrust official Makan Delrahim worries that without meaningful competition, “digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands.”

The focus of the investigation closely mirrors a bipartisan probe of Big Tech undertaken by the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. Its chairman, Democrat David Cicilline of Rhode Island, has sharply criticized the conduct of Silicon Valley giants and said legislative or regulatory changes may be needed. He has called breaking up the companies a last resort.

The Justice Department didn’t name any companies, but the targets are most likely Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. All four were the subject of congressional hearings last week.

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6:15 p.m.

A longtime digital advertising executive and antitrust expert says American consumers and news publishers need competitive tech markets.

Dina Srinivasan spoke Tuesday after the Department of Justice announced a broad antitrust investigation into big tech companies. She says increased competition could help solve wide-ranging privacy concerns in tech.

But Blair Levin, a former leading Federal Communications Commission staffer, says it’s not clear that antitrust regulations would solve all, or even any, of the other concerns.

Tech companies are facing scrutiny that ranges widely from privacy concerns to protection of children to political interference. Levin says regulators need to carefully line up which institutions can address which issues — and antitrust likely won’t take care of all of them.

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6:05 p.m.

One Wall Street analyst believes the Justice Department’s announced review of technology companies will lead to business model tweaks and fines rather than broader structural changes such as breaking up the companies.

Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities says any resulting probe would likely take many years, and that the government would ultimately fail to break up the companies without changes to antitrust laws. He says that’s unlikely.

The Justice Department says it is opening an investigation into whether big online companies have hurt competition or innovation.

The Justice Department didn’t name any companies, but the targets are most likely Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. All four were the subject of congressional hearings last week.

Shares of Facebook, Amazon and Apple are down slightly in after-hours trading, while Google’s stock is unchanged. All four had closed up for the day.

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5:55 p.m.

A Harvard professor who worked in the Obama administration says one challenge with the Justice Department’s announced probe of big tech companies is to avoid politicizing it.

Jason Furman, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama, says the antitrust scrutiny on the companies is long overdue. He just hopes it’s “fast and effective enough that it can actually improve the functioning of the market.”

As for whether any outcome could be expected before next year’s presidential elections, Furman says these cases take a long time to investigate, let alone litigate.

The probe announced Tuesday will include an examination into whether powerful companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon have been stifling innovation and competition.

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5:45 p.m.

An antitrust expert believes a Justice Department investigation into whether major technology companies are abusing their market power may prompt regulators to interpret the law in new ways.

The probe announced Tuesday will include an examination into whether powerful companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon have been stifling innovation and competition.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Herbert Hovenkamp says one possible way the companies have been doing that is by collectively buying hundreds of startups in recent years to devour their technology and prevent them from growing into formidable rivals.

Traditionally, antitrust regulators have only sought to block acquisitions involving two big companies. But Hovenkamp says U.S. antitrust law is broad enough for regulators to consider the potential damage wrought by relatively small deals too.

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5:30 p.m.

Major tech companies facing congressional antitrust scrutiny have no comment on the Justice Department’s just announced probe.

The department says it is opening sweeping antitrust investigation of Big Tech and whether the online platforms have hurt competition, suppressed innovation or otherwise harmed consumers. It did not name any specific companies in its announcement.

Amazon had no comment. Facebook also did not have an immediate comment.

Google directed requests for comments to the testimony its director of economic policy, Adam Cohen, made to the House Judiciary Committee last week. Cohen reiterated the company’s benefits to consumers.

Apple referred to comments from CEO Tim Cook, who told CBS last month he doesn’t think “anybody reasonable” would call Apple a monopoly.

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5:15 p.m.

The U.S. Justice Department says it is opening a sweeping antitrust investigation of big technology companies and whether their online platforms have hurt competition, suppressed innovation or otherwise harmed consumers.

It comes as a growing number of lawmakers have called for stricter regulation or even breaking up of the big tech companies, which have come under intense scrutiny following a series of scandals that compromised users’ privacy. President Donald Trump also has relentlessly criticized the big tech companies by name in recent months.

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4:50 p.m.

The Washington Post is reporting that the Federal Trade Commission will allege that Facebook misled users about its privacy practices as part of an expected settlement.

The federal business watchdog will reportedly find that Facebook deceived users about how it handled phone numbers it asked for as part of a security feature and provided insufficient information about how to turn off a facial recognition tool for photos.

Advertisers were reportedly able to target users who provided their phone number as part of a two-factor authentication security feature.

The FTC didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment. Facebook had no comment.

The complaints will reportedly be detailed in a settlement on Wednesday. Facebook won’t be required to admit guilt but will have to submit to federal oversight, the newspaper reported.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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