Congress Gets Ready to Smash Big Tech Monopolies

I’ve read a bunch of these reports from enforcers all over the world, this one is by far the clearest and most aggressive.

The basic thesis of this report isn’t a surprise, and consists of two basic elements. The subcommittee found that Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are abusive monopolies. The report also noted that Obama and Trump era enforcers failed to uphold anti-monopoly laws, which allowed these corporations to amass their dominance.

What makes these platforms unusually dangerous is that they are gatekeepers with surveillance power, and they can thus wield “near-perfect market intelligence” to copy or undermine would-be rivals. For Apple the dominant facility is the App store, for Google it’s the search engine, Maps, adtech, etc, for Facebook it’s social media, and for Amazon it’s the marketplace, AWS, Alexa, Fulfillment, and so forth. They exploit their gatekeeping and surveillance power to extract revenue, fortify their competitive barriers, and subsidize entry into new markets.

Over and over, the report just lays into the Federal Trade Commission and Antitrust Division for refusing to enforce monopolization laws and failing to stop mergers, even when they had evidence that such mergers were anti-competitive. The four companies bought more than 500 companies since 1998. However, “for most, if not all, of the acquisitions discussed in this Report,” it says, “the FTC had advance notice of the deals, but did not attempt to block any of them.” What were the priorities of the agencies? “Both agencies have targeted their enforcement efforts on relatively small players—including ice skating teachers and organists—raising questions about their enforcement priorities.” Ouch.

But the subcommittee report is also a deeply political document, explicitly so. Cicilline attacks the way that these corporations finance think tanks and academics. “Through a combination of direct lobbying and funding think tanks and academics,” it wrote, “the dominant platforms have expanded their sphere of influence, further shaping how they are governed and regulated.” I got fired from my think tank after criticizing Google in 2017, so that section rings true to me. The platforms also engaged in routine attempts to deceive investigators, and the report is merciless about such attempts at deception. For instance, the committee asked Amazon for a list of its top ten competitors. The report authors noted that “Amazon identified 1,700 companies, including Eero (a company Amazon owns), a discount surgical supply distributor, and a beef jerky company.” The report has multiple examples of such dissembling, from each company.

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