Justice Department's big tech investigation 'unusual' in scope

The Justice Department’s new investigation into big tech is raising many questions for some who closely watch antitrust law.

It’s “a bit unusual to start so broad,” John Yun, a former acting deputy assistant director in the antitrust division at the FTC, told Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade. “Antitrust is a very specific business, so this idea that we’re going to have a broad-brush investigation suggests that at some point it’s going to have to get specific.”

The Justice Department did not name any specific companies when it revealed a “review” was underway. In a statement, the department wrote that it was looking into “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.”

“We have to read the tea leaves,” said Yun, a law professor and director of economic education at the Global Antitrust Institute at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. “‘Leading online platforms’ invokes clearly the usual suspects of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, but does it invoke Twitter?”

FILE - This March 23, 2010, file photo shows the Google logo at the Google headquarters in Brussels. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

The announcement came less than a day before the FTC officially detailed an unprecedented $5 billion fine against Facebook for privacy violations. The FTC and Justice Department had reportedly been working under a gentleman’s agreement dividing up oversight for big tech, but Yun says this new investigation could mark a change.

“This new initiative seems to sort of push that aside,” Yun said. It’s a signal “the DOJ is going to go their own way.”

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