US states launch antitrust probe of big tech; Google ads in focus

Google has faced accusations that its web search service leads consumers to its own products at the cost of competitors. (AFP)
Updated 09 September 2019

US states launch antitrust probe of big tech; Google ads in focus

  • The Big Tech giants have increasingly come under fire for allegedly misusing their clout
  • US President Donald Trump has called for closer scrutiny of social media firms

WASHINGTON: Attorneys general from 48 US states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have opened an antitrust probe into big tech companies that focuses on Alphabet’s Google, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton formally announced on Monday.
Paxton leads the probe, he said, which will focus on Google’s advertising business.
The Big Tech giants that were once praised as engines of economic growth with massive efficiencies have increasingly come under fire for allegedly misusing their clout in the market and lapses such as privacy breaches.
US President Donald Trump has called for closer scrutiny of social media firms and Google, accusing them of suppressing conservative voices online without presenting any evidence.
Google specifically has faced accusations that its web search service, which has become so dominant that it is now a verb, leads consumers to its own products at the cost of competitors. There have also been complaints of potentially anti-competitive behavior in how it runs the advertising side of its business.
Google said in a statement on Friday that it had not yet been contacted by state antitrust enforcers but would work constructively with them.
Separately, a second group of state attorneys general, led by New York, is focusing on Facebook Inc, it was announced on Friday.
The social media platform, which owns one-time rivals Instagram and WhatsApp and has more than 1.5 billion daily users, has been criticized for allowing misleading posts and so-called “fake news” on its service. Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president for state and local policy, said last week that the company would cooperate with state attorneys general.
One criticism of Facebook is that it has been slow to clamp down on hate speech, and it recently paid a $5 billion settlement for sharing 87 million users’ data with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The consultancy’s clients included Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
On the federal level, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission are probing Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, also for potential violations of antitrust law.
Google’s parent Alphabet said on Friday the Department of Justice in late August requested information and documents related to prior antitrust probes of the company. The company added in a securities filing that it expects similar investigative demands from state attorneys general, and that it is cooperating with regulators.
Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer, has been accused of unfair tactics with third-party sellers on its website, who must pay for advertising to compete against first-party and private label sales by Amazon itself.
Apple has come under fire from app developers over practices like making only iPhone apps available through its official App Store. The music-streaming app Spotify has alleged that App Store policies make it difficult to compete against Apple Music for paid subscribers.
State attorneys general have fewer resources than the federal agencies but have been known to team up to take on even giant corporations.
Most recently, 43 states and Puerto Rico sued Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and 19 other drugmakers in May, accusing them of scheming to inflate prices and reduce competition for more than 100 generic drugs.


Netflix, Apple cross swords in Indian streaming market

Updated 12 September 2019

Netflix, Apple cross swords in Indian streaming market

  • Netflix launched in India in 2016 and two of its Indian-made series have won critical acclaim — “Sacred Games” and “Leila”
  • US technology giant Apple on Wednesday announced the launch of its streaming platform Apple TV+ in India, hoping to upend competition

MUMBAI: Competition in India’s booming streaming market is heating up as Netflix joins forces with a director of Bollywood feel-good blockbusters and Apple launches its TV platform for 99 rupees ($1.39) a month.
Netflix announced late Wednesday a long-term partnership with Karan Johar’s Dharmatic Entertainment to make a range of new fiction and non-fiction series and films for the platform.
Johar has directed eight films including “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” with Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan, and “Raazi,” nominated for best picture at next week’s Indian International Film Academy (IIFA) Awards, dubbed the Bollywood Oscars.
“It’s going to be P.H.A.T — pretty hot and tempting,” said Johar, whose Dharma Entertainment is one of India’s biggest production firms and which already teamed up with Netflix for the successful “Lust Stories” anthology.
Netflix launched in India in 2016 and two of its Indian-made series have won critical acclaim — “Sacred Games” starring Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and “Leila” with Huma Qureishi.
But Netflix faces stiff competition in Asia’s third-largest economy as Amazon’s Prime Video, Disney’s Hotstar, Alt Balaji and other local platforms jostle for digital subscriptions and eyeballs.
US technology giant Apple on Wednesday announced the launch of its streaming platform Apple TV+ in India, hoping to upend competition.
Netflix is available in India from 199 rupees a month and as millions of first-time users access Internet in Asia’s third-largest economy, analysts expect competition to intensify.
India’s video-streaming industry is expected to grow at nearly 22 percent per annum to 119 billion rupees ($1.7 billion) by 2023 according to consultancy PwC, Bloomberg News reported.
Netflix chief Reed Hastings has said the company’s goal is 100 million customers in India — almost 25 times its estimated subscriber base there as of this year, Bloomberg said.