The House antitrust subcommittee investigating Silicon Valley has already received plenty of tips from workers at tech firms, large and small, according to its chair, Representative David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island).
“There’s a lot of information that we’ve been gathering that people have shared with the committee but haven’t done publicly because they’re fearful of economic retaliation,” Cicilline told WIRED.
Cicilline’s subcommittee has been hosting hearings and roundtables on the state of competition in digital industries since the antitrust probe was announced on June 3. But the investigation ramped up last week when a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee fired off letters to the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet, and Apple, requesting to see detailed internal documents and executive communications by October 14.
The House isn’t alone in looking closely at tech’s Big Four. Earlier this month, 48 state attorneys general, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia’s top law enforcement officials, teamed up to launch a sweeping antitrust investigation into Google; a smaller group led by New York Attorney General Letitia James is also looking into Facebook.
Then there are the federal regulators at the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission, who are reported to be divvying up the bountiful oversight and investigative spoils supposedly hiding under only the finest rocks, desks, and servers in Silicon Valley. At least on paper—this week officials from both agencies embarrassed themselves in a Senate antitrust hearing, according to numerous lawmakers. We’ll get back to them in a bit.
All those state and federal investigations are supposedly quietly proceeding behind closed doors. The House could prove to be a more high-profile show.
”We know that there has been a tremendous concentration of market power and these digital platforms are engaged in monopoly-like behaviors because they’re so large, with really no competitors,” Cicilline said. “It’s resulted in a significant reduction of innovation, significant disregard for the privacy interests of consumers. It has prevented users from having real control over their data, and we know they’re engaged in anticompetitive behavior that’s favoring their own products and services.”
Since the government investigations began, tech companies have insisted in hearings and statements that their products improve consumers’ lives, and that they face plenty of competition. They’re not monopolies because—as their argument goes—how can one or two or even four companies monopolize the seemingly eternal digital space of the internet?
Lawmakers aren’t buying it, though. And it’s not just House Democrats. In an oddity in today’s hyperpartisan Washington, the investigation is fully supported by the Republicans on the subcommittee. There’s bipartisan ire in the marble halls of the Capitol when it comes to Silicon Valley.
“I believe there are major technology platforms—like Google, like Facebook—that have engaged in anticompetitive practices, particularly as it relates to the advertising space,” Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) told WIRED.
The young Florida lawmaker met with Attorney General William Barr about these potential antitrust violations just last week. Gaetz thinks the congressional investigation will spur the Justice Department to be more aggressive in enforcing the antitrust laws already on the nation’s books.
“It is my belief that the committee could do a lot to encourage the Department of Justice to ramp up its antitrust efforts,” Gaetz said.
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If you’d like to tip WIRED anonymously, we have a couple ways for you to do that here.
Gaetz is known for lobbing rhetorical bombs on Fox News (especially during the hours when President Donald Trump is most likely glued to his flatscreen). He says while the investigation is likely to produce at least one bipartisan piece of legislation aimed at reigning in Big Tech, he’s also hoping it will help educate the American public about how tech firms are allegedly playing fast and loose with their private data.
“Then there is, I think, a political strategy, to do more to inform people that with many of these major technology platforms they are not the customer, they are the product,” Gaetz said.
Source: The Feds Need to ‘Grow a Set and Do Their Jobs’
By Matt Laslo
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