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U.S. Justice Department Antitrust Unit Launches Probe Of ‘Leading Online Platforms’

Attorney General William Barr said at his confirmation hearings in January he was ‘interested’ in scrutinizing the ‘big behemoths’ of Silicon Valley. Previous reports suggest Google and Apple are in Justice's sights

The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday it was scrutinizing "leading online platforms" to determine if they were abusing their positions in the market -- potentially taking aim at tech behemoths Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google.

Federal authorities didn't name the companies to fall under the review of "whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers," according to a Justice Department statement.

Previous news reports suggested Google and Apple had drawn the attention of Justice investigators.

 [Related: FTC, DOJ Queried On Potential Antitrust Probes Of Amazon, Other Tech Giants]

Antitrust regulators will "consider the widespread concerns that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media, and some retail services online," the Justice statement reads.

The Wall Street Journal reported at the end of May that the Justice Department was preparing to investigate Google for potential violations of antitrust law. The probe would focus on Google's practices related to search and "other businesses".

Representatives of the Federal Trade Commission and Justice's Antitrust Division had held talks weeks earlier about which agency would oversee a Google antitrust probe. The commission ceded control of any investigation to the DOJ, anonymous sources told The Wall Street Journal.

Less than a week after that story, Reuters reported the Justice Department would lead a new probe into whether Apple abused its position in the market to stymie competition.

Justice also assumed jurisdiction over the Cupertino, Calif.-based iPhone maker after meetings with FTC officials, according to the news agency.

During the confab to divide oversight responsibilities, FTC regulators agreed to take the lead on probes of Facebook and Amazon, the report said.

During his nomination hearings in January, Attorney General William Barr told senators, without prompting, that he's interested in exploring the idea of scrutinizing big tech companies for antitrust violations.

"I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers," Barr said.

The Justice Department said Tuesday it was seeking information from other companies with "direct insight into competition in online platforms."

Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, who leads the antitrust division, said in the prepared statement: “without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands. The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues."

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to CRN's requests to them for comments.

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