The House Judiciary Committee has released its conclusions on whether Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google are violating antitrust law. Its 449-page report criticizes these companies for buying competitors, preferencing their own services, and holding outsized power over smaller businesses that use their platforms. “Our investigation revealed an alarming pattern of business practices that degrade competition and stifle innovation,” said committee member Val Demings (D-FL). “Competition must reward the best idea, not the biggest corporate account. We will take steps necessary to hold rulebreakers accountable.”
The report is scathing when it comes to the major technology companies and their clear pattern of anti-competitive behaviour and antritrust abuse.
Although these four corporations differ in important ways, studying their business practices has revealed common problems. First, each platform now serves as a gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution. By controlling access to markets, these giants can pick winners and losers throughout our economy. They not only wield tremendous power, but they also abuse it by charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them. Second, each platform uses its gatekeeper position to maintain its market power. By controlling the infrastructure of the digital age, they have surveilled other businesses to identify potential rivals, and have ultimately bought out, copied, or cut off their competitive threats. And, finally, these firms have abused their role as intermediaries to further entrench and expand their dominance. Whether through self-preferencing, predatory pricing, or exclusionary conduct, the dominant platforms have exploited their power in order to become even more dominant.
Apple, Google, Amazong, and Facebook are likened to oil barons and railroad tycoons from the American 19th century, and advises to break them up into separate entities. Countless other safeguards and measures are suggested, too, all to create and maintain a level playing field in the technology industry and sectors adjacent to it.
While I have my doubts US Congress possesses the intellectual honesty and, quite frankly, grip on reality required to do anything with this report, they seem like much-needed recommendations that should’ve been implemented yesterday.
Is the monopoly assessment based on the dominance of the technology/company or is it based on the the control the company exudes? That’s the most important distinction here but it hasn’t been declared.
Amazon is by far the dominant online retailer.
Facebook is by far the dominant social media platform
Google is by far the dominant search engine.
The only one that doesn’t fit the mould is Apple who dominates only two industries that it competes within… tablets and smart watches… two industries which happen to also have healthy competition but the issue at hand is about neither of these products.
Perhaps the monopoly conclusion is referring to control of the platform. By that standard all these companies exert control over their platform in various ways, each according to their business model.
But if that’s the standard perhaps they should lump in Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, Ford, BMW and a slew of other technology companies and auto manufacturers who are “guilty” of a monopoly on distribution of software apps on their consoles devices and vehicles etc.
The former classification is one that is relatively easy to push from a legal perspective (albeit sans Apple for the aforementioned reason).
The latter however opens up a Pandoras box of legal qualifiers that every business would be guilty of by dint of simply being the exclusive provider of its service or product under its brand name. Anyone who argues that it’s different with software is making the flawed argument for artificial legal constructs for different business models.