House Antitrust Panel Seeks Documents From 4 Big Tech Firms

In response to the House committee’s information requests, representatives of the companies mainly pointed to past statements they have already made. The companies have consistently said they would cooperate with the federal and state investigations, and that they would seek to demonstrate that they operate in dynamic, highly competitive markets.

In a statement, Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, who leads the subcommittee on antitrust, which is conducting the House investigation, called the document requests “an important milestone” in the fact-gathering stage of its investigation.

Mr. Cicilline also emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House effort. The letters to chief executives are signed by Mr. Cicilline, and Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, but also the ranking Republican members of the Judiciary Committee and the antitrust subcommittee, Doug Collins of Georgia and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.

The formal requests for information begin with cover letters to the chief executives, saying the investigators are examining competition in online markets and “whether dominant firms are engaging in anticompetitive conduct.” The letters are accompanied by detailed lists of the documents and communications sought from the named executives.

Just how much of the investigative work will become public as inquiries progress is unclear. Information requests and public declarations are one thing. But that is very different from later stages, when investigators are trying to lay the groundwork for a suit — and won’t want to their hand to a potential corporate defendant.

Such work, collecting more documents, taking depositions and assembling the evidence and building the narrative of corporate misbehavior, is best done in private. Major antitrust investigations typically last many months or years.

Sometimes, the companies themselves make disclosures about an investigation. Google, for example, said last Friday that its parent company, Alphabet, had received a mandatory request for information from the Justice Department concerning the company’s previous antitrust investigations.