House Democrats set their sights on major tech firms on Monday, announcing a major antitrust investigation into Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon. While not limited to the four companies, the lawmakers want to determine if Silicon Valley’s biggest companies prevent competition and hurt consumers.
At the investigation’s core is the idea that “the internet is broken,” Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) told reporters. The Democrat from Rhode Island plans to hold a series of hearings on whether the companies are too big and have too much control over the market.
“The open internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, including a surge of economic opportunity, massive investment, and new pathways for education online,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). “But there is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”
Lawmakers have a point: A handful of massive companies have outsized control over your digital life. Opting out Google’s services, for example, would leave customers cut off from a huge portion of the internet. When Google’s cloud services went down on Sunday, apps from Snapchat to those that control smart homes suddenly stopped working for thousands of people.
The announcement comes at a time where major tech companies face increased scrutiny from the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission – not to mention politicians on both sides of the aisle who are eager to regulate Big Tech. Monday’s announcement was a rare example of bipartisanship in Congress.
“Big Tech plays a huge role in our economy and our world,” said Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA). “As tech has expanded its market share, more and more questions have arisen about whether the market remains competitive. Our bipartisan look at competition in the digital markets gives us the chance to answer these questions and, if necessary, to take action.”
The House investigation is sprawling, and it’s not clear where it might lead. Breaking up Big Tech would mean services would likely be less integrated – your Instagram stories might not automatically post on Facebook, for example – but could also provide more choices in terms of apps or social media networks.
Tech monopolies will likely be a big topic going into the 2020 election. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, has called to break up Big Tech.
Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.