The last time that technology companies faced this kind of scrutiny was Google’s antitrust investigation, or the now twenty-one year old lawsuit brought by the Justice Department and multiple states against Microsoft.
But times have changed since Google had its hearing before a much friendlier audience of regulators under President Barack Obama .
These days, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are both making the case that big technology companies hold too much power in American political and economic life.
Issues around personal privacy, economic consolidation, misinformation and free speech are on the minds of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in next years Presidential election have made investigations into the breakup of big technology companies central components of their policy platforms.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers and agencies began stepping up their rhetoric and planning for how to oversee these companies beginning last September, when the Justice Department brought a group of the nation’s top prosecutors together to discuss technology companies’ growing power.
News of the increasing government activity sent technology stocks plummeting. Amazon shares were down $96 per-share to $1,680.05 — an over 5% drop on the day. Shares of Alphabet tumbled to $1031.53, a $74.76 decline or 6.76%. Declines at Facebook and Apple were more muted, with Apple falling $2.97, or 1.7%, to $172.32 and Facebook sliding $14.11 (or 7.95%) to $163.36.
In Senate confirmation hearings in January, the new Attorney General William Barr noted that technology companies would face more time under the regulatory microscope during his tenure, according to The Wall Street Journal .
“I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers,” Barr said. “You can win that place in the marketplace without violating the antitrust laws, but I want to find out more about that dynamic.”