(Reuters) A U.S. House of Representatives panel looking into abuses of market power by four of the biggest technology companies found they used “killer acquisitions” to smite rivals, charged exorbitant fees, and forced small businesses into “oppressive” contracts in the name of profit.
The scathing 449-page report describes dozens of instances where Alphabet Inc’s GOOGL.O Google, Apple Inc AAPL.O, Amazon.com AMZN.O, and Facebook FB.O misused their power, revealing corporate cultures apparently bent on doing what they could to hold on to their dominance over large portions of the internet.
“To put it simply, companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons,” the report said.
After more than a year of an investigation involving 1.3 million documents and more than 300 interviews, the committee led by Democratic Congressman David Cicilline found companies running marketplaces where they also competed, creating “a position that enables them to write one set of rules for others, while they play by another.”
Coming so close to the presidential election on Nov. 3, the content of the report became increasingly political with Republicans and Democrats seeking to use it to build up their credibility in the fight against the market domination of the biggest tech companies.
That said, Congress is unlikely to act on the findings this year.
Ultimately, the report reflects the views of the Democratic majority in the House, and two other reports were expected to be authored by Republican members on the panel, two sources told Reuters earlier in the day.
The report urged Congress to allow antitrust enforcers more leeway in stopping companies from purchasing potential rivals, something that is now difficult.
Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012 is an example of this. Instagram at the time was small and insignificant, but Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg saw its potential and noted that it was “building networks that are competitive with our own” and “could be very disruptive to us,” the report said.
As part of the report, the committee staff drew up a menu of potential changes in antitrust law. The suggestions ranged from the aggressive, such as potentially barring companies like Amazon.com from operating the markets in which it also competes, to the less controversial, like increasing the budgets of the agencies that enforce antitrust law: the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission.
Reporting by Nandita Bose and Diane Bartz; Editing by Edward Tobin and Leslie Adler