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  1. It’s separate from the Google and Apple investigations that were announced earlier After months of heightened tech scrutiny from both Republicans and Democrats, the Justice Department is opening a new antitrust investigation into large tech firms like Facebook, Amazon, and Google. “Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division. “The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.” The investigation will address broad concerns over whether Big Tech is stifling competition, and will be separate from the department’s probes of Google and Apple that were reported earlier this summer and are intended to take a closer look at individual potential violations. The review reported today will look into search engines, social media platforms, and retail, but not focus on any individual company or practice. In a press release, the Justice Department said the review “will consider the widespread concerns that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media, and some retail services online.” At Attorney General Barr’s confirmation hearing this past January, he told senators that he would like to see the Justice Department take a harder look at whether companies like Google and Amazon were abusing their market dominance. “I’d like to have the antitrust [officials] support that effort to get more involved in reviewing the situation from a competition standpoint,” Barr said at the time. “I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder [how] these big behemoths have taken shape in Silicon Valley.” Source
  2. The Justice Department’s head of antitrust, Makan Delrahim, has recused himself from the department’s investigation into Google over a conflict of interest, The New York Times is reporting. The conflict of interest reportedly stems from Delrahim’s previous work as a lawyer, when in 2007 he was contracted to lobby on behalf of the search giant’s acquisition of the adtech company DoubleClick. In a statement, the Justice department confirmed the move to the NYT. “As the technology review progressed, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim revisited potential conflicts with previous work with the Department of Justice’s ethics office,” a spokesperson said, “He and the ethics office have decided that he should now recuse himself from a matter within the tech review in an abundance of caution.” The loss of the department’s top antitrust official comes as the inquiry is thought to have entered a more serious phase. Last week it was reported that the Justice Department was meeting with at least seven state attorneys general, potentially paving the way for the two groups to combine their investigations into Google. The Justice Department’s investigation into Google was first reported in May last year, while the attorneys general announced their investigation in September. Delrahim’s potential conflicts of interest have previously been criticized by democratic nominee Senator Elizabeth Warren, who questioned his impartiality after he was paid $100,000 by Google to lobby on behalf of its DoubleClick acquisition in 2007. Throughout the course of her campaign, Warren has been vocal about her desire to break up the big tech companies, including Google. Later that year, text messages emerged that appeared to show Delrahim facilitating negotiations between Sprint and T-Mobile to help their merger receive the FCC’s approval. The DoJ investigation will now be lead by associate deputy attorney Ryan Shores, and deputy assistant attorney general Alex Okuliar, the agency said in a statement. Source
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