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Apple Latest Tech Giant In Sights Of U.S. Antitrust Regulators: Report

According to the Reuters news agency, the iPhone maker joins Google as a potential target of the U.S. Justice Department, as other reports say the FTC is picking up probes of Facebook and Amazon. Attorney General William Barr said at his confirmation hearings in January he was "interested" in scrutinizing big tech

Apple looks to be the latest in a series of tech giants to be investigated by federal regulators less than six months after Attorney General William Barr told senators weighing his confirmation that he was "interested" in greater scrutiny of big tech. 

Reuters reported Monday that the U.S. Justice Department will lead a potential new probe into whether the Cupertino, Calif.-based iPhone maker abused its position in the market to stymie competition.

The Department of Justice's Antitrust Division assumed jurisdiction over the Apple investigation after a meeting sometime in the last few weeks with representatives of the Federal Trade Commission, according to the news agency.

[Related: U.S. Senator To FTC: Investigate Google Over Search, Ad Practices]

During that confab to divide oversight responsibilities, FTC regulators agreed to take the lead on probes of Facebook and Amazon.

DOJ representatives told CRN that they don’t confirm or comment on investigations as a matter of policy. Apple hasn't yet replied to a request for comment on the report.

During his nomination hearings in January, Attorney General William Barr told senators, without prompting, that he's interested in exploring the idea of scrutinizing big tech companies for antitrust violations.

"I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers," Barr said.

Reports of an antitrust investigation come as Apple execs, including CEO Tim Cook, meet with software development partners at the company's Worldwide Developer's Conference.

Some developers of iPhone apps, most notably music streaming service Spotify in a formal complaint filed with the EU, have complained about how Apple charges subscription fees for products sold through its AppStore online marketplace.

The Reuters story follows a Wall Street Journal report late Friday that said Justice's antitrust division was preparing to investigate Google for anticompetitive practices in Search and "other businesses". The Apple and Google investigations are connected, Reuters reported.

Also, the Journal reported that Facebook will be subject to scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission over practices that might suppress competition. And The Washington Post wrote that Amazon is also on the FTC's antitrust radar.

The burst of reports, all anonymously sourced, about a surge of regulatory activity from the Trump administration's Justice Department and FTC are sending tech stocks plummeting, eroding billions of dollars in total market capitalization.

Apple fell Monday from $175.07 to $172.03 a share. Alphabet, Google's parent, dropped from $1,106.50 to $1,033.85 by Monday afternoon.

Amazon and Facebook were also down.

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