By: Alexandra Li
Today, big tech is embroiled in countless issues: consumer privacy, the cost of being able to access the internet, and with the controversial Earn It Act set to make its House debut, many Americans are left deeply worried about what it means to be a tech consumer. Just this October 5, America has seen perhaps one of the biggest changes to big tech to come — the unveiling of House Democrats’ antitrust report. As American giants like Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, and Amazon dominate vast markets with little to no room to spare for smaller competitors, it is clear that we need antitrust laws. This would not only protect our consumers and their welfare but also encourage innovation and ensure that the power of our nation’s wealthiest companies stays in check.
Big tech’s presence can be seen everywhere — from Amazon delivery trucks on our roads, Apple smartphones in our bags and pockets, and Google services in our classrooms. Here in America, it’s essentially impossible to escape the influence of big tech. They provide services vital to our everyday lives with limited or no alternatives.
But how have these companies managed to grow so fast? Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet have a combined market capital of some $6.24 trillion, and what their future means for us is deeply troubling. Take Facebook, for example. One of its key growth strategies was “copy, kill, acquire,” as can be seen via the acquisition of Instagram back in 2012. Google has a similarly anti-competitive approach. By mimicking and limiting exposure to other, more specific search engines such as Yelp for restaurants, Google solidifies its position as the dominant search engine in all areas. Amazon — with 49% of the total e-commerce sales in America — hurts small vendors by selling their own, Amazon brand goods at predatory prices. Apple’s App Store curates their app selection with an iron hand, using discriminatory practices to help limit exposure to potential competition. Furthermore, finding smaller tech companies becomes near impossible when companies like Google and Facebook control huge portions of online advertising and search tools. While big tech companies offer undeniable benefits to society, their anti-competitive practices need to come to an end.
Antitrust laws come in many different shapes and sizes, but their overarching goal is to ensure that consumers have the freedom to choose. Back in the day of oil monopolies, it was antitrust that broke up companies like Standard Oil, protecting the industry and its consumers. It is a corporation’s job to make money. Unless legislation tightens its reins and limits unethical practices, corporations will do all they can to squeeze in extra dollars, including big tech. To address this, antitrust is essential. Ever since the 1990s, the government has been slow to use antitrust for fear that its application would hurt economic growth. But antitrust can be remarkably effective at breaking up concentrated power. Three major laws — the Sherman Act, the FTC Act, and the Clayton Act — discourage monopolistic powers by issuing civil and criminal punishments for companies engaging in anti-competitive practices. Enforcing these laws on big tech ensures a diverse array of choices for consumers and makes sure that anti-competitive practices cannot happen in the first place.
The most notable battle between antitrust and big tech was back in 2001, United States vs. Microsoft. In this landmark case, Microsoft was ruled to have violated antitrust laws like the Sherman Act, which resulted in the company being split into two. But times have changed. Big tech’s presence has grown exponentially since then, and as it grows, tech changes — fast. By applying antitrust and passing legislation tailored to current anti-competitive practices in big tech, like laws limiting the acquisition of competitors, smaller companies can have the time they need to grow to become a sizable and reliable alternative to the select tech brands we are so familiar with.
There are various opinions of what should be done. However, we already have three reliable antitrust acts in our arsenal and they are the most clear-cut way to prevent anti-competitiveness. Antitrust legislation can combat all aspects of big tech’s anti-competitive practices — restrictive marketplaces, unfair acquisitions, and abuse of power. Although proceeding with antitrust legislation will be time-consuming, if we start now, tech markets will become more healthy, competitive, and most of all, consumer-friendly in the long run.