On Friday last week, the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee sent out four separate requests for information letters to Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet, and Apple as a part of antitrust investigations into the tech giants. The companies are expected to respond by October 14th.
The antitrust investigation was launched earlier this year to determine whether big tech is abusing its market dominance and violating antitrust law. Stating the reason behind this investigation, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement, “The open internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, including a surge of economic opportunity, massive investment, and new pathways for education online. But there is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”
The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee asks the big tech for a broad range of documents
The letters issued by the antitrust subcommittee to these big tech companies ask them to share company organization charts, financial reports, and records they’ve produced for earlier antitrust investigation by the FTC or Department of Justice. Along with these details, the letters also ask a wide-range of questions specific to the individual companies.
The letter to Amazon demands details about any provision it takes to guarantee that its prices are best in its contracts with suppliers or merchants. As there have been speculations that Amazon tweaks its search algorithm in favor of its own products, the letter asks detailed questions regarding its ranking and search algorithms.
Amazon reportedly tweaked its search algorithm to favour products that are most profitable for Amazon (often its own brands) rather than most relevant for the user. If so, that's an antitrust bombshell. https://t.co/4oq301g2Pt
— David Meyer (@superglaze) September 17, 2019
In the letter, there are questions regarding the promotion and marketing services Amazon provides to suppliers or merchants and whether it treats its own products differently from third-party products. Congress has also asked about Amazon’s acquisition across medicine, home security, and grocery stores.
The letter to Facebook asks details about its Onavo app that was reported to have been used for monitoring users’ mobile activity. It asks Facebook to present details of all the product decisions and acquisitions Facebook made based on the data collected by Onavo. The letter also focuses on how Facebook plans to keep all the promises it made when acquiring WhatsApp in 2014 like “We are absolutely not going to change plans around WhatsApp and the way it uses user data.”
In the letter addressed to Alphabet, the antitrust subcommittee has asked detailed questions regarding the algorithm behind Google Search. The committee has also demanded executive emails discussing Google’s acquisitions including DoubleClick, YouTube, and Android. There are also several questions touching upon Google Maps Platform, Google Adsense and AdX, Play Store, YouTube’s ad inventory, and much more.
In the letter to Apple, the antitrust subcommittee has asked whether Apple restricts its users from using web browsers other than Safari. It has asked for emails about its crackdown on screen-tracking and parental control apps. Also, there are questions regarding Apple’s restrictions on third-party repairs. The letter reads, “Isn’t this just a way for Apple to elbow out the competition and extend its monopoly into the market for repairs?”
Rep. David N. Cicilline, chairman of the panel’s antitrust subcommittee, believes that the requests for information mark an “important milestone in this investigation.” In a statement, he said, “We expect stakeholders to use this opportunity to provide information to the Committee to ensure that the Internet is an engine for opportunity for everyone, not just a select few gatekeepers.”
This step by the antitrust subcommittee adds to the antitrust pressure on Silicon Valley. Last week, more than 40 state attorney generals launched an antitrust investigation targeting Google and its advertising practices. Meanwhile, Facebook is also facing a multistate investigation for possible antitrust violations.