Congress’ Big Tech investigation finds companies wield ‘monopoly power’

A 16-month congressional investigation into Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook has found that the tech giants hold “monopoly power” in key business segments and have abused their dominance in the marketplace, in a full-throated condemnation of the giants.

The findings set the stage for possible future legislation designed to rein in Big Tech, even as antitrust enforcers at the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission gear up for potential litigation against some of the companies.

In a 450-page report, staffers for the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel wrote that there is “significant evidence” to show that the companies’ anticompetitive conduct has hindered innovation, reduced consumer choice and weakened democracy.

Under Chairman David Cicilline, the antitrust subcommittee collected more than 1 million documents from the companies and interviewed academics, business leaders and even many of Big Tech’s rivals — including some Fortune 500 companies concerned about the tech giants’ power, said an attorney for the subcommittee.

“These firms have too much power, and that power must be reined in and subject to appropriate oversight and enforcement,” the report said. “Our economy and democracy are at stake.”

The report laid out several recommendations to curtail the dominance of the companies, ranging from “structural separation” — forcing companies such as Amazon not to compete on the same platform that it operates — to giving new tools and funding to antitrust enforcement agencies.

Much like the railroad tycoons and telecom barons of yesteryear, modern day tech giants have amassed tremendous market share over vital levers of commerce — search engines, app stores and social media services, the report said.

But unlike prior monopolistic industries, the subcommittee attorney said, tech companies have successfully used the data they accumulate in one area of business to gain tremendous advantages when they expand into related businesses.

For example, the attorney said, the investigation showed that Google used its search product to find out which browsers were the most popular, “and that informed their strategy for Chrome.”

“It’s the fact that they’re able to develop near-perfect market intelligence that does make it feel like we’re living in a new world,” the attorney told reporters.

Apple, Facebook and Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Amazon lashed out in a blog post, describing “misguided interventions in the free market” as “fringe notions.”

“Large companies are not dominant by definition, and the presumption that success can only be the result of anti-competitive behavior is simply wrong,” the blog post said. “And yet, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, those fallacies are at the core of regulatory spit-balling on antitrust.”

The report now heads to a subcommittee markup, where a vote to adopt the final report is expected to take place before any legislative proposals are introduced.

Rep. Ken Buck, a top Republican on the subcommittee, released his own report on Tuesday largely agreeing with Cicilline’s report, though he differed on some of the proposals.

“Many of the factual findings detailed in the report are undeniable,” Buck wrote. “The majority staff accurately portrays how Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook have used their monopoly power to act as gatekeepers to the marketplace, undermine potential competition, and pick winners and losers.”

Buck said that some of the Democratic-led report’s recommendations were “non-starters,” such as the proposal to force platform companies to separate their lines of business. But Republicans are on board with other ideas, such as giving more resources to antitrust enforcers and amending the nation’s antitrust laws to make it easier for them to block mergers and bring and win cases against misbehaving firms.