ReutersSep 18, 2019 08:17:25 IST
The Justice Department's antitrust division chief, Makan Delrahim, said Tuesday that its probes of big technology companies like Alphabet's Google were a "priority" that could result in either "law enforcement or policy options as solutions."
Delrahim and Joe Simons, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, began testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel. The Trump administration is in the early stages of investigating Google, Facebook , Amazon and Apple for allegedly using their clout illegally to hobble competitors.
Senator Mike Lee, a Republican and subcommittee chair, pressed the agencies in opening remarks about how they were collaborating.
Reuters and others reported in June that the agencies had divided up the companies, with Justice taking Google and Apple while the FTC took Facebook and Amazon. The Justice Department later said it was opening a probe of online platforms. This led some industry observers to question whether the two probes would overlap.
"Based on news reports, it sounds like your agencies may be pursuing monopolization investigations of the same companies," Lee said in written remarks. "I don’t think your agencies should be divvying up parts of a monopolization investigation of the same tech company."
Delrahim said in his written testimony that the department had made the probe a "priority." He said the agency had opened a probe of "market-leading online platforms" and noted that the department had complaints about "search, social media, and some retail services online," a description that could include Facebook and Amazon.
Depending on where the evidence led, Delrahim said, "We could look to both law enforcement and policy options as solutions."
"We welcome further input from not only those market stakeholders, but also from members of Congress, particularly this subcommittee," he said.
The FTC's Simons noted in his statement the agency's probe of Facebook, which the company acknowledged in July. He said the agency's Technology Task Force was "up and running and actively investigating competitive activity in US technology markets."
Groups of state attorneys general also are probing Facebook and Google, but it is unclear how much coordination there is between the two agencies or between the agencies and the states.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican who has been outspoken about online privacy, is expected to ask if a federal privacy law would act to curb alleged abuses by big technology companies.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, is expected to ask whether there are safeguards to prevent President Donald Trump's White House from insisting that antitrust be used for political ends, according to a source close to Leahy's office.
Trump is a long-time critic of the cable news channel CNN, a unit of AT&T, and the Justice Department sued to stop AT&T from buying Time Warner, CNN's parent, but lost. Delrahim has denied making decisions based on politics.
In June, a group of senators asked the government if the president had interfered in a review of the proposed $26 billion merger of T-Mobile US Inc and Sprint Corp.
Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker, who are running for president and sit on the subcommittee, signed the letter, as did Senator Elizabeth Warren, also a candidate for the Democratic nomination.
The Justice Department approved the deal, but states sued to stop it.
Klobuchar and Senator Richard Blumenthal may also ask about legislation introduced in August to allow harsher penalties for companies that violate antitrust law.