House Antitrust Panel Seeks Documents From 4 Big Tech Firms

A House committee investigating Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google over possible antitrust violations on Friday sent the four companies detailed requests for documents, emails and other communications.

House investigators are seeking information on the big technology companies’ businesses, acquisitions and conduct in digital markets including internet search, advertising and e-commerce.

The formal requests for information begin with cover letters to the chief executives of the four companies, saying the investigators are examining competition in online markets and “whether dominant firms are engaging in anticompetitive conduct.” The letters are accompanied by detailed lists of the documents and communications sought, up to 15 pages for each company.

The House inquiry is one of several investigations into big tech companies that are now underway. The Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the attorneys general from dozens of states are also investigating the tech giants.

The investigations are just starting, and issuing information requests or subpoenas is routine in any formal inquiry. But the action on Friday indicated the depth of the scrutiny that the companies will undergo, and suggested the lines of investigation being pursued.

Representatives of the companies were not immediately available for comment on Friday. But the companies have consistently said they would cooperate with the federal and state investigations, and that they would seek to demonstrate that they operate in dynamic, highly competitive markets.

Some of the information requests are made public, as the House committee did today, or sometimes disclosed by the companies. Google, for example, said last Friday that its parent company, Alphabet, had received a mandatory request for information from the Justice Department concerning the company’s previous antitrust investigations.

But much of the investigative work including collecting documents and taking depositions is done in private in antitrust investigations that typically last months or years.

In a statement, Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, who leads the subcommittee on antitrust, which is conducting the House investigation, called the document requests “an important milestone” in the fact-gathering stage of its investigation.

Mr. Cicilline also emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House effort. The letters to chief executives are signed by Mr. Cicilline, and Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, but also the ranking Republican members of the Judiciary Committee and the antitrust subcommittee, Doug Collins of Georgia and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.

The House document requests do show that its staff has done considerable homework on the companies under scrutiny.

The request sent to Google, for example, names 14 senior executives and seeks all communications to or from them on a series of company moves including Google’s purchase of DoubleClick in 2008 and AdMob in 2011. Those acquisitions helped build up Google’s huge and lucrative ad business.

But House investigators want to see the executives’ communications on Google practices: One request is for communications on its policy on “whether non-Google companies can provide competing ad networks” and other services.

That part of the House inquiry echoes that of the states’ investigation of Google. The Texas state attorney general’s office, which is leading the states’ pursuit of the company, sent Google this week a lengthy demand for information on its ad business, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

But the House investigation is broader. Its request also touches other businesses including smartphone software, seeking information on Google’s purchase of Android in 2005.

The House requests are similarly detailed for the other companies. The Facebook document asks for extensive internal information about its acquisitions of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, which were potentially emerging competitors until they were bought.

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