China kicked off an investigation into alleged monopolistic practices at Alibaba Group and summoned affiliate Ant Group to a high-level meeting over financial regulations, escalating scrutiny over the twin pillars of billionaire Jack Ma’s internet empire. From a report: The probe announced Thursday marks the formal start of the Communist Party’s crackdown on the crown jewel of Ma’s sprawling dominion, spanning everything from e-commerce to logistics and social media. The pressure on Ma is central to a broader effort to rein in an increasingly influential internet sphere: Draft anti-monopoly rules released November gave the government wide latitude to restrain entrepreneurs who until recently enjoyed unusual freedom to expand their realms. Once hailed as drivers of economic prosperity and symbols of the country’s technological prowess, Alibaba and rivals like Tencent Holdings face increasing pressure from regulators after amassing hundreds of millions of users and gaining influence over almost every aspect of daily life in China. The State Administration for Market Regulation is investigating Alibaba, the top antitrust watchdog said in a statement without further details. Regulators including the central bank and banking watchdog will separately summon affiliate Ant to a meeting intended to drive home increasingly stringent financial regulations, which now pose a threat to the growth of the world’s biggest online financial services firm. Ant said in a statement on its official WeChat account it will study and comply with all requirements. Ma, the flamboyant co-founder of Alibaba and Ant, has all but vanished from public view since Ant’s initial public offering got derailed last month. As of early December, the man most closely identified with the meteoric rise of China was advised by the government to stay in the country, a person familiar with the matter has said. Read more of this story at Slashdot.