(Bloomberg)—The U.S. Justice Department plans to move quickly in analyzing how giant technology companies operate and whether they’re engaging in anti-competitive behavior, the department’s deputy said.
“We look to do this in an expeditious manner,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a recent interview. “We do not see this as one of these open-ended, goes-on-forever deals.”
Rosen provided the most extensive comments to date about the Justice Department review announced in July into whether market-leading online platforms are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation or harmed consumers. Attorney General William Barr, who has expertise in antitrust matters, authorized the effort and is closely watching it.
The review comes at a time when both Republicans and Democrats have been strongly critical of practices by big technology and internet companies like Facebook Inc. and Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc.
Some critics have questioned whether there’s any political motivation behind the review, given that President Donald Trump has attacked some of the companies, alleging they have a bias against him and conservative voices.
Rosen said the review isn’t being driven by a political agenda.
“I don’t deny that we live in an environment where people raise those concerns, but I feel very confident that this is entirely based on the facts and the law,” Rosen said.
The department initiated the review “after hearing widespread concerns expressed by consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs,” said spokesman Alexei Woltornist.
“The widespread and bipartisan nature of these concerns are evidenced by the bipartisan coalitions of over 40 state attorneys general who are working with the Department of Justice on these important issues,” Woltornist said.
A group of attorneys general led by Texas is investigating Google for possible antitrust violations, while another group led by New York is scrutinizing Facebook.
The Justice Department’s review coincides with other federal and congressional inquiries. The Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust jurisdiction with the Justice Department, is also probing the technology sector and has opened an investigation into Facebook. A committee led by Democratic Representative David Cicilline from Rhode Island issued extensive document requests to Facebook, Google, Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 500) and Apple Inc. (No. 2) in September.
The FTC closed a two-year investigation of Google under the Obama administration in 2013 without taking action.
Rosen said interest in the Justice Department’s review so far “has been pretty high by the market participants in particular.”
“The willingness to talk to us has been good but it’s still at a relatively early juncture,” Rosen said.
The DOJ review could have dramatic implications if the U.S. decides to take antitrust action against some of the world’s biggest companies.
Rosen insisted the department doesn’t have a pre-determined outcome in mind and will study the facts it gathers in order to decide on any actions, including whether companies should be broken up.
“This is a merits review,” he said. “It’s not a pre-determined outcome.”
He indicated the department isn’t looking at a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to dealing with different companies or their markets.
“I don’t think that at the outset you make a decision that something is or is not doable,” Rosen said. “What remedies are appropriate depend on the facts. They depend on the market conditions. Each one is unique.”
He said the department—and Barr in particular—was compelled to launch the review given the size of the companies and number of users, as well as the impact on the U.S. economy and consumers.
“The underlying driver would apply probably to any attorney general, just because of where we are as a country in terms of how our economy functions and the vital role that the online platforms play,” Rosen said.Favorite