News & Politics

Let it Begin: DOJ Opens Antitrust Investigation of Big Tech Firms

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The Department of Justice announced it’s opening an expansive review to determine if the largest technology companies are stifling competition in violation of the nation’s antitrust laws.

National Review:

“Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division said in a statement announcing the remarkably broad probe. “The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”

The Antitrust Division will work to determine whether companies such as Facebook, Google, and Apple have “reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers” as they’ve grown dramatically in recent years and begun expanding into various industries by acquiring smaller potential competitors. The Federal Trade Commission is conducting a separate, more limited investigation into potential monopolistic abuses by Facebook and Amazon.

Over at the FTC, the agency just unveiled a $5 billion settlement with Facebook and Amazon that Democrats believe is far too mild.

But is it?

POLITICO:

In addition to the fine — by far the largest privacy-related settlement the FTC has ever won from a company — the agreement calls for Facebook to establish an internal privacy oversight committee, according to the agency, “removing unfettered control by Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg over decisions affecting user privacy,” the FTC said in a statement Wednesday that came just as special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s long-awaited testimony in Congress was commanding people’s attention throughout Washington.

“The magnitude of the $5 billion penalty and sweeping conduct relief are unprecedented in the history of the FTC,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons when announcing the settlement. “The relief is designed not only to punish future violations but, more importantly, to change Facebook’s entire privacy culture to decrease the likelihood of continued violations.”

Zuckerberg should pay the fine out of his own pocket. It was his arrogance that created a culture at Facebook that led to serious data breaches and misuse of private information  of users.

Usually, conservatives take a pretty laissez faire approach to regulating big business. Why punish a company for being hugely successful?

But Republicans have grown weary of the sanctimonious denials by Big Tech that they aren’t biased against conservatives or Republicans. James O’Keefe of Project Veritas just released a video making a liar out of Google in that respect.

The right clearly thinks that something must be done (more from National Review):

The newly announced probe serves as the latest indication that the Trump administration has begun to take seriously the mounting Republican opposition to the nation’s largest tech companies. Led by Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, a number of populist Republicans have railed in recent months against Google and other dominant Silicon Valley firms over privacy abuses and the alleged censorship of socially conservative voices on their platforms.

And Attorney General William Barr appears to be fully on board:

“I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the anti-trust enforcers,” Barr told lawmakers. “You can win that place in the marketplace without violating the anti-trust laws, but I want to find out more about that dynamic.”

When the Carter Justice Department first went after Bell System in the late 1970s, the communications industry was poised to undergo a truly radical and wonderful transformation. And when AT&T finally signed the consent decree in 1982, it unleashed a powerful wave of market-driven innovation that continues to this day.

Would a break-up of Google, Apple, and other tech giants lead to a similar revolution?  It’s certainly possible. But as for making the tech giants into politically unbiased participants in the country’s democracy, don’t hold your breath. These are private companies and can act pretty much any way they want.

Is it “fair?” Of course not. But until conservative and Republican push-back begins to cost the tech giants significant amounts of money, their bias will continue unchecked.