Congress will be taking a close look at the power of big tech.
The House Judiciary Committee announced Monday that it will hold a series of hearings as part of a bipartisan investigation into whether there is enough competition among U.S. technology companies.
While no companies were named, any investigation will inevitably touch on Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, all of which have come under increased scrutiny in recent years for their dominance in a variety of markets including social networking, online advertising, online search, e-commerce and mobile apps.
“A small number of dominant, unregulated platforms have extraordinary power over commerce, communication, and information online,” the Judiciary Committee noted in a news release that included the names of both Democratic and Republican members. “Based on investigative reporting and oversight by international policymakers and enforcers, there are concerns that these platforms have the incentive and ability to harm the competitive process.”
“The Antitrust Subcommittee will conduct a top-to-bottom review of the market power held by giant tech platforms. This is the first time Congress has undertaken an investigation into this behavior.”
One area of the investigation is likely to be particularly unwelcome among tech executives: The committee said it would look into whether existing antitrust laws and enforcement levels are adequate to address the growing concentration of power in the tech industry.
“Given the growing tide of concentration and consolidation across our economy, it is vital that we investigate the current state of competition in digital markets and the health of the antitrust laws,” committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in the announcement.
The news comes just as the federal government has reportedly been preparing to ramp up its antitrust oversight of U.S. tech companies amid growing political pressure that has included increasing scrutiny from both parties.
Google and Amazon declined to comment. Requests for comment from Apple and Facebook were not immediately returned.
Calls to rein in major U.S. tech companies — either by cracking down on how the companies use their power or by breaking them up — began to circulate in recent years among some academics and activists but did not receive mainstream attention until the past year, when elected officials and even some in the tech industry began openly call for action.
In March, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., publicly called for the break-up of Facebook, Google and Amazon. Since then, other prominent Democrats and even some Republicans have voiced support for either splitting up the major tech companies or taking action to address their power. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., recently told NBC News that he thought Warren’s plan to break up the companies might not go far enough.
While public sentiment has also turned on some tech companies, Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis, the ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
“As the world becomes more dependent on a digital marketplace, we must discuss how the regulatory framework is built to ensure fairness and competition,” Sensenbrenner said. “I believe these hearings can be informative, but it is important for us to avoid any predetermined conclusions.”