WASHINGTON — Google and Amazon have thrived as American regulators largely kept their distance. That may be changing.
Politicians on the right and left are decrying the tech companies’ enormous power. President Trump and other Republicans have taken swipes at Amazon over taxes and at Google over search results they say are biased. Democrats have focused on whether the companies stifle competition.
And now, the two federal agencies that handle antitrust matters have split up oversight of the two companies, with the Justice Department taking Google and the Federal Trade Commission taking Amazon, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.
The decisions do not mean that the agencies have opened official federal investigations, the people said. But by staking claims over the two tech giants, the agencies are signaling the potential for greater scrutiny.
Regulators have struggled to keep pace with the growth of technology companies in recent years. With huge profits and work forces, the companies have come to dominate large swaths of the economy. Amazon is the de facto force in online retailing. Google is the starting point for many people searching online.
While tech giants are awash in cash, data and ambition, they are also increasingly mired in controversy. A wide range of concerns have recently dogged Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, including their influence on consumer privacy, labor conditions and public discourse.
With Amazon, some consumer groups and vendors have complained that its powerful e-commerce platform edges out new competition, particularly as the company enters into new business lines like groceries and fashion.
With Google, the Justice Department is exploring an investigation of the advertising and search business, according to several people with knowledge of the discussions. The agency’s interest, in part, stems from rivals’ complaints.
The regulators’ moves are small and preliminary, and could easily come to nothing. But if the agencies pursue cases, Google and Amazon will almost certainly face reams of bad publicity, rising consumer distrust and falling employee morale. An inquiry would remind everyone that Google, with its early motto of “Don’t be evil,” held itself to standards it sometimes could not match.