Final Report From House Antitrust Probe Into Big Tech Expected by ‘First Part’ of 2020

By Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao is a New York-based reporter at The Epoch Times. He covers national security, human trafficking and U.S. politics.
October 20, 2019 Updated: October 21, 2019

A final report from a bipartisan congressional antitrust probe into big technology companies is expected to be completed by the “first part” of 2020, according to the chairman of the House’s antitrust panel.

The subcommittee of the House’s Judiciary Committee is investigating Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple over potential breaches of antitrust law. So far, the subcommittee has received tens of thousands of documents from the four companies, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) told reporters on Oct. 18.

In September, the panel sent out separate letters to each of the four companies, requesting a wide range of documents, including sensitive internal emails from the companies’ top executives.

“Our hope is to conclude our evidence collection end of this year, beginning of next year with the idea that we will have a final report, instead of recommendations in the first part of next year,” Cicilline said.

His comments came at a hearing to discuss the effect of consumer data collection by big technology platforms on online competition. Rohit Chopra, commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, as well as experts from Harvard Kennedy School and the American Enterprise Institute, also participated in the hearing.

Big tech companies are facing a historic wave of increased scrutiny, with antitrust investigations begun at both the state and federal levels by the Justice Department (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission. A partnership of about 50 U.S. states and territories, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, is also probing Google’s practices, while a separate bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in eight states is looking at possible antitrust issues with Facebook.

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times on May 9 that the country already has the tools to curb the domination of Facebook, but that we “just seem to have forgotten about them.”

“Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American,” Hughes wrote, referring to Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. “It is time to break up Facebook.”

Meanwhile, Paxton’s office recently hired three high-level consultants as part of its multistate probe into Google. They are Roger Alford, who was, until this year, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s antitrust division; Eugene Burrus, an external adviser at McKinsey & Co., who had been assistant general counsel at Microsoft Corp.; and Cristina Caffarra, an economist heading the European competition team at consulting firm Charles River Associates.

Chopra said at the hearing that vast troves of consumer data collected by big technology companies allow them to gain a competitive edge and pose a threat to competition by creating entry barriers. Personal data is powering the dominance of tech companies that offer basic services for free that are, ultimately, not free, he said.

Chopra also said small fines and financial penalties won’t be enough to address concerns about the power of big tech firms, adding that regulators will need to take a closer look at that.

Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology told The Epoch Times last month that companies such as Google can just brush off fines.

“Google has been subjected to more than $8 billion in fines by the EU in the last two years, approximately,” he said. “But I don’t think these fines will really have the impact that we need to have on Google.”

Once lauded as engines of economic growth, these companies have increasingly been on the defensive because of their outsized market influence. Politicians, including President Donald Trump, as well as consumers, other firms, and regulators have criticized that power.

Of the subcommittee’s request for documents, New York attorney Barry Barnett, who has expertise in antitrust law, told The Epoch Times previously they appeared to focus on acquisition and potential abuses of market power rather than on agreements among competitors.

“The breadth of the document requests implies a readiness to engage in a possibly long, resource-intensive, and disruptive effort to identify, gather evidence regarding, and potentially bring enforcement actions to halt or reverse acquisitions if they’ve created or sustained monopolies or aimed to do so,” Barnett said via email.

Reuters contributed to this report 

Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao is a New York-based reporter at The Epoch Times. He covers national security, human trafficking and U.S. politics.