The US government is gearing up to investigate whether Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google misuse their massive market power, sources told Reuters on Monday, setting up what could be an unprecedented, wide-ranging probe of some of the world's largest companies.
The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, which enforce antitrust laws in the United States, have divided oversight over the four companies, two sources said, with Amazon and Facebook under the watch of the FTC, and Apple and Google under the Justice Department, reports Reuters .
With jurisdiction established, the next step is for the two federal agencies to decide if they want to open formal investigations. Results are not likely to be quick. A previous FTC probe of Google took more than two years.
Technology companies face a backlash in the United States and across the world, fueled by concerns among competitors, lawmakers and consumer groups that the firms have too much power and are harming users and business rivals.
Shares of Facebook Inc fell 7.5% on Monday while Google's owner Alphabet Inc shed more than 6%. Amazon.com Inc shares fell 4.6% and Apple Inc dipped 1%.
The Justice Department and FTC generally do not discuss investigations.
US President Donald Trump has called for closer scrutiny of social media companies and Google, accusing them of suppressing conservative voices online, without presenting any evidence.
He has repeatedly criticised Amazon for taking advantage of the US Postal Service, also without evidence. Trump has frequently taken aim at Amazon's Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, who privately owns the Washington Post, a newspaper which often criticises Trump.
Leading lawmakers on both sides of the aisle welcomed potential investigations of big tech firms.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican, told Reuters that the business model of companies like Google and Facebook needs to be scrutinised. "It’s got so much power, and so unregulated," he said. Another Republican, Senator Marsha Blackburn, said the panel would do what she called a "deeper dive" into big tech companies.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who said on Monday that US enforcers have to do more than wring their hands about the companies' clout, also weighed in.
"Their predatory power grabs demand strict & stiff investigation & antitrust action," the Connecticut senator wrote on Twitter.
Separately, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee opened its own investigation into competition in digital markets, with both Republicans and Democrats expressing concern about the power exercised by tech giants.