Tech giants are not playing according to economic rules set by the market, but by rules they largely set themselves. That won’t wash
When the US Department of Justice filed a complaint against Google last week it triggered the most significant antitrust case since the federal authorities sued Microsoft in the 1990s. Today’s trustbusters argue that Google’s search and advertising dominance goes well beyond consumer preference and into consumer abuse by forcing people to use its services and bending them to its data collection practices.
This is a new era for big tech, one inaugurated by the US Congress report earlier this month that looked at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The 16-month investigation said it had found in Silicon Valley “the kinds of monopolies [last seen] in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons”. This language deliberately recalls two American presidents, and cousins, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D Roosevelt, who are remembered, perhaps too generously, for standing up to big business and saving America from plutocracy. At the heart of Congress’s analysis is that tech giants are not playing according to economic rules set by the market, but by rules they largely set themselves. This allows corporations to appropriate excess profits through privileged access to user data.