Apple, Google, Amazon, And Facebook Execs Asked To Hand Over Private Emails In House Antitrust Probe

Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) (C) and ranking member Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) (2L) participate in a House Judiciary Committee markup, on September 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty)

House lawmakers probing Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon for potential antitrust violations have requested the companies turn over internal records, including executives’ own communications.

A barrage of letters signed by Republicans and Democrats on Friday said the requests are part of an ongoing investigation by the House of Representative's Judiciary Committee into whether the companies are involved in anti-competitive behaviour. The investigation, which began in June, also aims to assess whether current laws are adequate enough to ensure competition in online markets.

The requests were tailored for each company, with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, being asked to turn over records specific to the company’s online book sales and other products, including its facial recognition software, Rekognition.

It’s unclear whether lawmakers intend to call the companies to appear before the committee, but the records requested are typical of those used to inform such hearings.

None of the companies immediately responded to Gizmodo’s requests for comment.

“The open Internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, including a surge of economic opportunity, massive investment, and new pathways for education online,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the committee’s chairman, said in a statement. “But there is growing evidence that a handful of corporations have come to capture an outsized share of online commerce and communications,”

His Republican counterpart, Rep. Doug Collins, said that hearings on the issue of competitiveness would be ongoing, but that additional fact-finding was presently needed. “This information is key in helping determine whether anticompetitive behaviour is occurring, whether our antitrust enforcement agencies should investigate specific issues and whether or not our antitrust laws need improvement to better promote competition in the digital markets,” he said.

Based on the questions, it’s clear lawmakers are digging into specific areas of the companies’ businesses, such as Facebook and Google’s online advertising dominance. Questions to Facebook also centered on various acquisitions, including WhatsApp and Instagram, and what CEO Mark Zuckerberg may have said about those companies when they still competed with Facebook.

A selection of questions sent by members of the House Judiciary Committee to Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple, meanwhile, is being questioned over a myriad of products and services, including the iPhone, Apple Maps and iCloud, as well as how the company ranks and imposes restrictions on apps in the App Store.

The House investigation’s progress comes amid a ballooning number of antitrust probes into America’s largest companies. On Monday, 50 attorneys general, including those from 48 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, launched an antitrust probe into Google, which recently confirmed it’s also under investigation by the Justice Department.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is currently looking into anti-competitive practices by Facebook, which also faces a state-level investigation, and the FTC has reportedly set its regulatory sights on Amazon as well.

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