Over the past decade, Alibaba’s business has sprawled beyond shopping into logistics, grocery, entertainment, social media, travel booking and much else. Like its fellow internet behemoths, Alibaba has said that the breadth of its business helps make each of its services more useful. But critics say the company’s size slants the playing field for competitors and restricts consumers’ choices.
China started ramping up scrutiny of its tech giants last year. The market regulator proposed updating the country’s antimonopoly law with a new provision for large internet platforms such as Alibaba’s. In November, officials halted the plans of Alibaba’s sister company, the finance-focused Ant Group, to go public and tightened oversight of internet finance.
In December, it opened the antimonopoly investigation into Alibaba — a startling turn in the fortunes of Jack Ma, Alibaba’s co-founder, whom people in China had long held up as an icon of entrepreneurial pluck.
Skepticism about the clout of large internet companies has been on the rise in the United States and Europe, too. Western regulators have repeatedly fined Goliaths such as Google in recent years for various antitrust violations. But such penalties generally have not changed the nature of the companies’ businesses enough to mitigate concerns about their power.