The U.S. Justice Department says it is opening a sweeping antitrust investigation of big technology companies and whether their online platforms have hurt competition, suppressed innovation or otherwise harmed consumers.
It comes as a growing number of lawmakers have called for stricter regulation or even breaking up of the big tech companies, which have come under intense scrutiny following a series of scandals that compromised users' privacy.
President Donald Trump also has relentlessly criticised the big tech companies by name in recent months.
The Justice Department says its new review will delve into competition "in an objective and fair-minded manner."
The agency says it wants to ensure that Americans have access to free markets and that companies compete on merits. The Justice Department says it will take into account the "widespread concerns" about social media, search engines and online retail services expressed by consumers, businesses and entrepreneurs. Its antitrust division is seeking information from the public, including those in the tech industry.
In a statement, top antitrust official Makan Delrahim worried that without meaningful competition, "digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands."
The focus of the investigation closely mirrors a bipartisan probe of Big Tech undertaken by the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. Its chairman, Democrat David Cicilline of Rhode Island, has sharply criticized the conduct of Silicon Valley giants and said legislative or regulatory changes may be needed. He has called breaking up the companies a last resort.
The Justice Department didn't name any companies, but the targets are most likely Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. All four were the subject of congressional hearings last week.
One Wall Street analyst believes the review will lead to business model tweaks and fines rather than broader structural changes such as breaking up the companies.
Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities says any resulting probe would likely take many years, and that the government would ultimately fail to break up the companies without changes to antitrust laws. He says that's unlikely.
Shares of Facebook, Amazon and Apple are down slightly in after-hours trading, while Google's stock is unchanged. All four had closed up for the day.
Earlier, the Washington Post is reporting that the Federal Trade Commission will allege that Facebook misled users about its privacy practices as part of an expected settlement.
The federal business watchdog will reportedly find that Facebook deceived users about how it handled phone numbers it asked for as part of a security feature and provided insufficient information about how to turn off a facial recognition tool for photos.
Advertisers were reportedly able to target users who provided their phone number as part of a two-factor authentication security feature.
The FTC didn't respond immediately to a request for comment. Facebook had no comment.
The complaints will reportedly be detailed in a settlement on Wednesday. Facebook won't be required to admit guilt but will have to submit to federal oversight, the newspaper reported.