The Department of Justice division dedicated to investigating violations of antitrust and monopoly laws will take a look at how big tech platforms have been doing business, according to a news release sent late Tuesday afternoon.
The DOJ release explained that the probe "will consider the widespread concerns that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media, and some retail services online." As part of the review, antitrust investigators will also be "conferring with and seeking information from the public, including industry participants who have direct insight into competition in online platforms" the department explained.
The news release does not specifically mention any companies as investigation subjects, suggesting a wide-ranging investigation.
DOJ said that the goal of the probe is to "assess the competitive conditions in the online marketplace in an objective and fair-minded manner and to ensure Americans have access to free markets in which companies compete on the merits to provide services that users want" and that it plans to "proceed appropriately" to address discovered violations of antitrust law.
"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."
As the debate over how to address Silicon Valley censorship and suppression of conservative viewpoints continues on Capitol Hill, the question of whether or not popular online platforms have operated in violation of antitrust laws or have themselves become industry monopolies has been front and center.
In an interview on BlazeTV's "Capitol Hill Brief" last week, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called for such an antitrust investigation, specifically against Google and Facebook, saying, "We need to protect property rights, and we need more competition" in the tech sector.
"As conservatives, we believe in competition," Hawley explained. "The problem is these big companies are preventing competition; they're going out and buying their competitors, they're using their market power to cheat against competitors, steal their information, try and use it."
Ahead of a high-profile Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing with a Google executive that same week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Fox News that "Google is a monopoly. Google may well be the most powerful company on the face of the planet because they have a monopoly on information. … And the problem is, they use monopoly powers to silence voices they don't like."
In an interview with BlazeTV, Cruz also explained his support for stripping federal liability protections from social media companies that engage in viewpoint discrimination — a policy addressed in a bill recently introduced by Hawley.
"It seems to me," Cruz told BlazeMedia, if tech companies "are going to refuse to be neutral, if they're going to engage in viewpoint discrimination, then they don't deserve any special immunity from liability that Congress has given them."