Barr Sees Big-Tech Probe Wrapping Up by Next Year

Barr Sees Big-Tech Probe Wrapping Up by Next Year

Government has to move quickly and ‘fish or cut bait,’ attorney general says

Barr Says There Is 'Complete Consensus' on Big Tech
By Tim Hanrahan and Brent Kendall Updated Dec. 10, 2019 6:02 pm ET
WASHINGTON—Attorney General William Barr said he would like for the Justice Department probe of Big Tech to wrap up next year, while also warning that law enforcement would look at broader business practices unrelated to antitrust concerns.
The government has to move quickly and “fish or cut bait,” he said, in an interview at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council gathering in Washington on Tuesday, citing the cost to business and the marketplace from long investigations.
The Justice Department is conducting a broad antitrust review into whether dominant technology companies, such as Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc. ’s Google, are unlawfully stifling competition.
Mr. Barr said there is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and a “complete consensus” among the Justice Department and state attorneys general that something should be done. He said that could be an enforcement action or “an opportunity for legislative proposals.”
Mr. Barr also said he was receptive to the idea that there could be monopolistic harm to users regarding personal data, even if the consumer doesn’t pay for a service.
“I am inclined to think there is no free lunch. Something that is free is actually getting paid for one way or the other. So I am open to that argument.”
Shortly after the Journal event, Mr. Barr addressed concerns about tech companies in a speech before the National Association of Attorneys General, telling a room full of state AGs that the tech probe was among his priorities. Most states also are investigating tech giants on concerns that they have stifled competition.
Mr. Barr said online platforms offer a range of services that require government law enforcers to take a broad look at the companies’ practices.
“Fair competition can cure many of the ills we see,” he said, but added that the government’s wide review “also requires looking beyond antitrust.”
If the tech giants are inflicting harm on society outside of the issue of competition, the department will look at whether there are other tools to address them, Mr. Barr said. He cited potential concerns about privacy, transparency, child exploitation and consumer safety and fraud.
The attorney general also voiced concerns about the broad civil immunity that internet companies enjoy under the Communications Decency Act for material that is published on their platforms.
Mr. Barr favorably cited a dissenting opinion this year from Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robert Katzmann in a terrorism case that banned civil claims against Facebook. Other judges found the act barred allegations that Facebook was civilly liable because its algorithms matched the Hamas organization with people that supported its cause.
Judge Katzmann’s dissent argued that Congress never intended for online-platform immunity to be so broad.


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