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Congress Is Coming for the Emails of Big Tech Execs

The House antitrust probe just got real, with a big ask for a wide array of the companies' financial data and even communications from top execs.

by David Uberti
Sep 13 2019, 3:16pm

House lawmakers running an antitrust probe into Big Tech turned up the heat with a new message to companies Friday: Please hand over everything we need to investigate you — including top executives’ emails.

In letters to Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, the House Judiciary Committee requested a wide array of financial data about their products and communications from the C-suite about potential acquisitions.

Lawmakers hope the information will help them determine whether the firms engaged in anti-competitive practices as they came to dominate internet search, digital advertising, e-commerce, and other areas. The big question is whether they hurt consumers by crowding out other options.

“We made it clear when we launched this bipartisan investigation that we plan to get all the facts we need to diagnose the problems in the digital marketplace,” Rep. David Cicilline, (D-N.Y.), chair of the antitrust subcommittee, said in a statement. “We expect stakeholders to use this opportunity to provide information to the Committee to ensure that the Internet is an engine for opportunity for everyone, not just a select few gatekeepers.”

Federal regulators have already handed down a series of fines for Big Tech privacy violations in recent months. But critics across the political aisle have called for more aggressive action to probe potentially monopolistic behavior.

They may be getting it, including at the state level. Last week, nine attorneys general announced an antitrust inquiry into Facebook while 50 attorneys general launched a similar investigation of Google.

The letters to the companies on Friday likewise upped the pressure from Washington. In addition to financial information about tech giants’ individual products — take Instagram — they demanded internal communications leading up to Facebook’s purchase of the app. Lawmakers even specified individual executives for those requests, including Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The tech companies, which are not obligated to hand over the information, have marched executives to Capitol Hill for a series of hearings in recent months. They’ve claimed that digital markets are in fact competitive, highlighting supposed threats from comparatively tiny companies.

Sissie Hsiao, vice president for product management at Google, reiterated that stance in a blog post about advertising technology Wednesday.

“To suggest that the ad tech sector is lacking competition is simply not true,” wrote Hsiao wrote, whose employer controls an estimated three-fourths of search ads in the U.S. “To the contrary, the industry is famously crowded.”

Cover: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos during the JFK Space Summit at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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