U.S. attorney general says Big Tech probes to be completed next year

FILE PHOTO: The logos of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are seen in a combination photo from Reuters files. REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General William Barr said on Tuesday that he hoped to have Justice Department investigations of the big tech platforms - Facebook Inc FB.O, Alphabet Inc's GOOGL.O Google, Inc AMZN.O and Apple Inc AAPL.O - completed next year.

The four tech companies have been lightning rods for regulator probes this year. In addition to the Justice investigations, the Federal Trade Commission, state attorneys general and Congress are looking at one or more of the companies.

“We started in earnest in July. It’s been moving very quickly,” Barr told the Wall Street Journal CEO Council. “We’re talking very broadly with people and getting a lot of input from people in the industry and experts and so forth.”

“I’d like to have it completed some time next year. I think it’s important to move quickly on things,” Barr said. “These things have a cost to the marketplace and businesses. I think at some point the government has to fish or cut bait.”

Barr said that the Justice Department review was not limited to antitrust, but that looking for anti-competitive behavior was “front and center.”

“The question is that when you have the kind of market power that some companies have in their market, then some conduct that may have made sense when they were the insurgent company in a growing industry can become anti-competitive because it ends up fortifying the monopoly,” he said.

The attorney general, however, also cited his previous work for Verizon Communications VZ.N, in arguing that big companies provided some benefits to consumers, particularly in telecommunications.

“Big is not bad,” he said. “I think in certain network industries you can be too Balkanized and no one has the scale necessary for the kind of innovation that we’re seeing.”

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Bill Berkrot