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US Department of Justice launches antitrust probe into dominance of online platform providers

The US Department of Justice has called for an antitrust investigation into how “market-leading” online platform operators in the search, social media and retail space operate

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has ordered an antitrust review into how some of the world’s biggest online platforms have risen to dominance, which will include tech firms operating within the search, social media and retail markets.

The department, which is concerned with enforcing the law to protect US citizens from foreign and domestic threats, confirmed in a press statement that its Antitrust Division will be leading the probe.

The statement, however, stops short of naming which companies the review will be targeting, only to say that its investigative work will focus on the actions of “market-leading online platforms” operating in the search, social media and retail services markets.

This means the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon, for example, could find their activities subject to scrutiny not only by the investigators, but also the general public and other industry players, who the DoJ has confirmed will be asked to share their concerns on this matter too.

The focus of the investigation will be on whether or not these online platforms have, in their rise to dominance, engaged in practices that have led to reduced competition, stifled innovation or caused harm to consumers in other ways.

The review will be handled in an “objective and fair-minded manner”, said the DoJ, and is being undertaken to ensure the US public can reap the benefits of free markets, while the companies that operate within them are all doing so from a level-playing field.

“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,” said assistant attorney general Makan Delrahim of the DoJ’s Antitrust Division.

This probe is far from the only one underway into how the actions of some of the world’s biggest tech firms are affecting users and society as a whole, as the US Federal Trade Commission is in the throes of an investigation of its own along similar lines.

In the UK, this has recently led to senior representatives from Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft being invited to give evidence in front of the House of Lords Communications Committee about their tax-paying agreements, as well as user safe-guarding matters and antitrust issues.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the European Commission set out plans for its own antitrust investigation into how Amazon uses the sales data of third-party sellers that use its platform to market their wares.  

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