Trump now says Google, Facebook, Amazon may be ‘antitrust situation’

President Donald Trump, stepping up his criticism of technology firms he says are favouring liberal points of view, said they may be in a “very antitrust situation” but repeatedly said he can’t comment publicly on whether they should be broken up.

“I won’t comment on the breaking up, of whether it’s that or Amazon or Facebook,” Trump said in an Oval Office interview Thursday with Bloomberg News. “As you know, many people think it is a very antitrust situation, the three of them. But I just, I won’t comment on that.”

Trump reiterated for the third day his accusation that “conservatives have been treated very unfairly” by Alphabet’s Google. “I tell you there are some moments where we say, ‘Wow that really is bad, what they’re doing.’”

Trump’s latest attack on the technology companies began Tuesday when he claimed without providing evidence that Google’s news search function favoured liberal over conservative outlets, tweeting that “This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” Later, in a meeting in the Oval Office, he told reporters that Alphabet’s Google, Facebook and Twitter “are treading on very, very troubled territory".

On Wednesday, he tweeted a video, with the hashtag "#StopTheBias," which purported to show that Google promoted President Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union address on its homepage but did not give a boost to Trump’s.

Google said in a statement that it promoted Trump’s 2018 address, but didn’t post a tout to either his or Obama’s speeches to Congress after they were first elected, which are not technically State of the Union addresses. The company says its news searches are designed to give users relevant answers and don’t favor any political point of view.

Trump continued with the topic at a rally in Evansville, Indiana, on Thursday night. "I’ve made it clear we as a country cannot tolerate" censorship and "rigged search results," the president said. "We’re not going to let them control what we can and cannot see, read, and learn from".

The company had no immediate response to Trump’s suggestion it may be violating antitrust laws but the same point was raised earlier in the day by a top Republican lawmaker. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah on Thursday asked US Federal Trade Commission chairperson Joseph Simons to re-examine Google’s conduct in search and digital advertising, saying reports of potentially anticompetitive conduct are “disquieting.”

Google declined to comment on Hatch’s letter.

Non-political

After Trump’s attack this week, the company said its search function is not used to set a political agenda and isn’t biased against any ideology.

The FTC previously investigated Google over whether the company skewed search results to favour its own services. The agency closed that case in 2013 without bringing an enforcement action after Google agreed to stop certain practices, including removing restrictions on the use of its online search advertising platform.

The decision to close the case, made under the administration of former President Barack Obama, disappointed some companies and consumer groups who claimed Google abused its dominance.

The FTC is now led by Simons, who has expressed a willingness to examine the conduct of technology platforms. “In the past, Google has offered arguments that its conduct is procompetitive,” Hatch wrote. “But much has changed since the FTC last looked at Google’s conduct regarding search and digital advertising".

Calls for comment to representatives for Amazon and Facebook were not immediately returned. The companies, which offer popular free services, have said they face intense competition and deny they’re harming consumers.

Google may hear more about the bias allegations and other issues alongside executives from Facebook and Twitter at a hearing on Russian election meddling on September 5. 

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