States to Move Forward With Antitrust Investigation of Big Tech Firms

A group of states is preparing to move forward with a joint antitrust investigation of big technology companies, according to people familiar with the situation, adding another layer of scrutiny to an industry already under a federal spotlight, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The effort involving state attorneys general is expected to be formally launched as soon as next month, the people said. It is likely to focus on whether a handful of dominant technology platforms use their marketplace powers to stifle competition.

As part of the probe, the states are likely to issue civil investigative demands, similar to subpoenas, to tech companies and other businesses, the people said.

The new investigation could dovetail with plans by the Justice Department, which last month announced its own antitrust review that will focus on tech companies including Alphabet’s Google unit and Facebook, the people familiar with the plans said.

The specific number of states that might join the investigation couldn’t be learned, though one person familiar with the effort said up to 20 or more may participate.

Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, four companies likely to be a focus of the new investigation, all declined to comment. The companies generally say they operate fairly and don’t engage in anticompetitive behavior.

The Wall Street Journal reported in June that a number of attorneys general were considering a probe into big tech companies. As that effort moved toward a formal investigation, representatives of about a dozen state attorneys general, including Republicans and Democrats, met with top Justice Department officials in Washington in July to discuss concerns about lack of competition in the tech industry, according to people familiar with the meeting.

The political makeup of the multistate group isn’t set. A bipartisan probe could give the investigation broader leverage and help insulate GOP officials from questions over whether their actions are motivated by political concerns, such as how online platforms treat conservative speech.

“The attorneys general involved have concerns over the control of personal data by large tech companies and will hold them accountable for anticompetitive practices that endanger privacy and consumer data,” said a spokesman for New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat.

A spokeswoman for North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, said he is “participating in bipartisan conversations about this issue.” Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, also a Democrat, said in a statement he continues “to be concerned with the aggregation of data in the hands of a few and am always watchful of any monopoly.”

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