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Retail group says it’s ready to assist tech antitrust probes
As regulators get ready to scrutinize Big Tech, the companies’ rivals are standing ready to assist.
In a letter dated Sunday, a group representing retailers including Walmart, Target and Best Buy shared its own concerns with the Federal Trade Commission, one of two U.S. agencies tasked with antitrust regulation. The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) said that regulators should apply a broader antitrust standard than assessing whether or not consumers are getting a good deal, for which the Department of Justice’s antitrust chief Makan Delrahim had also made the case in a speech last month.
The letter comes as the FTC and DOJ have reportedly divided oversight of a handful of the country’s largest tech firms: Facebook, Google parent-company Alphabet, Amazon and Apple. The companies have faced regulation and in some cases fines from regulators around the world in recent years who have found them in violation of competition laws.
RILA said in the letter it is concerned about the “information infrastructure” that allows tech companies to use data to influence consumers’ understanding of prices.
“It should thus be quite concerning to the Commission that Amazon and Google control the majority of all of Internet product search, and can very easily affect whether and how price and product information actually reaches consumers,” RILA wrote.
Ultimately, it said, “a firm does not need to have the power to control prices if it has the power to control effective access to price information.”
RILA also raised questions about the potential consumer harm tech companies can inflict through their dominance that is unrelated to prices. The group wrote that “the quality of those products and services have degraded as these companies shifted from fierce competitors to dominant monopolists,” citing data privacy and advertising disclosure problems at Google and Facebook.
Amazon did not comment directly on the letter, but said in a statement, “The retail market is fiercely competitive. Amazon represents less than 4% of U.S. retail. The vast majority of U.S. retail sales – 90% — still occur in physical stores.”
Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
Meanwhile, other tech companies like Yelp have been critical of Google’s competitive practices for years.
RILA said it did not write the letter “to complain about competition” from tech firms, but that it wants that competition to take place “on a fair and level playing field.”
Concluding the letter, which was signed by RILA Chief Operating Officer Brian Dodge, the group said it “stands ready to work with the Commission as it completes its ambitious review of all comments and testimony and to provide any other assistance the Commission may deem appropriate and useful.”
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