House antitrust panel seeks internal records from Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook

Source: The Hill

House lawmakers are escalating their antitrust investigation of Silicon Valley, issuing expansive requests for internal documents to four of the nation’s largest technology companies.

Bipartisan leaders of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee sent letters to Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google on Friday seeking internal communications and documents regarding the use of their market dominance.

“Today’s document requests are an important milestone in this investigation as we work to obtain the information that our Members need to make this determination,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who chairs the subcommittee and is leading the antitrust investigation, said in a statement.

“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 information is key in helping determine whether anticompetitive behavior is occurring, whether our antitrust enforcement agencies should investigate specific issues and whether or not our antitrust laws need improvement to better promote competition in the digital markets,” added Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), the ranking Republican on the full Judiciary Committee.

The panel is requesting communications among each company’s executives, records that were handed over in past antitrust investigation and internal documents detailing their organizational structures. The lawmakers gave each company a deadline of Oct. 14.

The requests come as regulators are ratcheting up their scrutiny of the tech giants’ market power.

In the past week, Google disclosed that it received a separate investigative records request from the Department of Justice just days before a coalition of 50 attorneys general from across the U.S. launched their own antitrust investigation into the internet search giant.

And Facebook revealed over the summer that it is the subject of an antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.

Asked for comment by The Hill, a spokeswoman for Google pointed to a blog post published last week by Kent Walker, the company’s chief legal officer, promising to cooperate with the flurry of antitrust inquiries.

“We have answered many questions on these issues over many years, in the United States as well as overseas, across many aspects of our business, so this is not new for us,” Walker wrote. “We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so.”

Apple, Amazon and Facebook did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

In July, executives from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google testified before the antitrust subcommittee to defend against the heightening scrutiny. Cicilline later chastised the four executives over their testimony, accusing them of giving “evasive, incomplete, or misleading answers” in response to basic questions about their market power.

The requests sent on Friday appear to partly be an attempt to establish whether the companies had any intent to snuff out competition throughout their years of rapid growth. The subcommittee asked each company for internal communications among top executives regarding past acquisitions.

“I appreciate the willingness of certain tech companies to come before our committee and answer questions,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the subcommittee’s top Republican, said in a statement. “However, we still need more information about their business practices at this fact-finding stage of this investigation. Again, I stress to my colleagues that a bipartisan outcome will require an open-minded process.”

The list of documents requested would also shed light on areas of the companies that have been completely opaque to the outside world.

The letter to Google parent company Alphabet, for instance, asks for records relating to “Google’s algorithm that determines the ranking of search results, including but not limited to how Google’s algorithm accounts for Google content or services and how Google’s algorithm accounts for non-Google content or services that compete with Google’s offerings.”

“The open Internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, including a surge of economic opportunity, massive investment, and new pathways for education online,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “But there is growing evidence that a handful of corporations have come to capture an outsized share of online commerce and communications.”

“It is increasingly difficult to use the Internet without relying on these services,” Nadler said. “The documents requested will provide the Committee with a better understanding of the degree to which these intermediaries enjoy market power, how they are using that market power, whether they are using their market power in ways that have harmed consumers and competition, and how Congress should respond.”