Amazon and Apple didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Facebook declined to comment, and Google also declined to comment but referred CNN to testimony company executives delivered before Congress last week.
“Depending on the facts that are developed during this inquiry, the DOJ could eventually open a more focused investigation that seeks to address the business practices of specific companies,” said Juan A. Arteaga, who served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s antitrust division under the Obama Administration.
In conducting its initial inquiry, the DOJ will likely review documents provided by the companies whose practices are being reviewed and speak with their employees, as well as obtain information from market participants such as the companies’ customers and competitors, according to Arteaga.
The DOJ announcement follows a week of congressional hearings that were bruising for the tech industry. Lawmakers slammed Facebook over its attempts to enter the financial services industry with a new digital currency, Libra. Amazon faced tough questions over its relationship to third-party sellers on its own platform, and Google over fake listings on Google Maps.
The DOJ announcement also comes as Facebook braces for a multi-billion-dollar fine from the Federal Trade Commission that was spurred by an investigation into numerous privacy mishaps by the social media giant during and after the 2016 election.
News of the review drew swift praise from vocal critics of the tech industry. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who has introduced various bills to rein in the tech industry, said in a statement it is important that regulators ensure markets function properly, “particularly when a firm controls an entire ecosystem on which innovation and communications depend.”
“We should be suing Google and Facebook and all that, which perhaps we will,” Trump told Fox Business in an interview last month.
The announcement also signals that a deeper look at the tech industry has the backing of Attorney General William Barr, who has voiced concerns about Silicon Valley.
The review in some ways also raises the stakes for the government, said Gene Kimmelman, a former DOJ antitrust official.
“Whether it ends up being an antitrust investigation or not, the public is going to expect that the government is now really taking charge of everything people are worried about. … If we don’t get antitrust action, I think there’ll be increased pressure for doing something else,” he said, referring to additional regulation.
Despite the widening challenges facing tech companies in Washington, analysts said the long-term risk for the big players remains unclear.
“We ultimately believe this is more noise vs. the start of broader structural changes across the tech food chain and will likely result in business model tweaks and potential DOJ/ FTC fines in a worst case scenario rather than forced breakups of the underlying businesses,” according to a research note sent to investors Tuesday by the market research firm Wedbush Securities.
David Shortell contributed to this report.
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