House Democrats struck Big Tech with a broadside on Tuesday.
A congressional committee took four gleaming Goliaths to task—Amazon, Apple, Alphabet’s Google, and Facebook—in a damning report that accuses the companies of abusing their market power to stifle competition and unfairly reap profits. The 449-page document, which you can read in full here, is the culmination of a 16-month antitrust investigation by a House Judiciary subcommittee.
The findings are hardly a surprise. Anyone who has watched these tech giants romp and stomp and squash underfoot all who would interfere with their frenzied dance to riches will see them as a belated acknowledgment of reality. As the reports’ authors observe: “Companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.”
These latter-day Rockefellers and Vanderbilts have been calling the shots for years. It’s no secret that Google and Facebook utterly dominate the digital advertising market. Facebook is, in particular, notorious for its attempts to copy and crush rivals, like Snapchat and now TikTok. Amazon’s turbo-capitalist ambitions can barely be contained. As for Apple, well, look no further than the mounting backlash from developers, led by Fortnite maker Epic Games, over the Cupertino colossuses’s highway robbery—I mean, App Store payments policy.
Now what to do about the abuses? The report recommends reviving antitrust enforcement. It seeks to bolster the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission’s power to block corporate mergers and acquisitions. And it proposes allowing people to pack up their user data and port it wherever they like.
Not everyone is on board with the conclusions. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) disagreed with key portions, especially ones relating to “structural separations.” He called these a “thinly veiled call to break up Big Tech firms” in a draft response, Reuters reported. For another acute dissection of the report’s shortcomings, I recommend this thread by Alex Stapp, director of technology policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, a Democratic think tank that, in spite of its name, leans centrist.
The regulatory reckoning has proponents though. “I suddenly feel waves of hope,” commented Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and former 2014 New York gubernatorial candidate. “This is powerful, deeply studied, serious, and is what Congress is supposed to do.”
The reckoning has begun.