Two government officials yesterday admitted what many Big Tech critics have argued for years: Lawmakers and regulators have done a bad job of managing monopolies.
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust committee David Cicilline and Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra spoke at a virtual event hosted by the American Economic Liberties Project, a lobbying group focused on battling monopoly power. They suggested that the U.S. needs new laws to prevent companies from engaging in anticompetitive behavior as well as improved regulatory enforcement to crack down on companies that break the rules.
“We need to end the era of weak enforcement,” Chopra said on the Zoom call.
Both Congress and regulators have become increasingly concerned with Big Tech’s growing power and their history of squashing and scooping up rivals. And the battle against Big Tech has bipartisan interest, though in some cases for different reasons.
Already, the antitrust committee had released a report urging for sweeping regulatory changes following its 16-month investigation into Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. The committee suggested breaking up the companies, prohibiting them from giving themselves or others preferential treatment, and strengthening antitrust regulatory bodies and laws.
Now, a couple of weeks later, the DOJ has filed its landmark lawsuit against Google regarding its dominance of search and search ads. It, too, listed recommendations such as splitting up the company or prohibiting certain anticompetitive practices.
But investigations aside, Cicilline said Congress has fallen behind on its duty to create modern laws and ensure regulatory agencies have enough resources to do their jobs. And Chopra said regulators should be doing more within the confines of the current laws.
Recent rulings have benefited tech companies, Chopra added. For example, YouTube and Google agreed to pay the FTC a $170 million settlement for collecting personal information from children on YouTube without parental consent. Factoring in both the settlement and the data that was collected, Chopra believes YouTube ultimately made money from their actions.
Also, the FTC’s $5 billion settlement with Facebook last year gave CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg immunity from wrongdoing, Chopra said. “A settlement with a fine and some paperwork is not going to fix the problem,” he said. “It’s only going to incentivize bad behavior.”
Congress’ antitrust investigation is its first in 50 years. If regulators and lawmakers want to make the sweeping changes that Cicilline and Chopra suggest, they have quite the tall task ahead.
On the latest episode of our Brainstorm podcast, we explore the impact of social media on the U.S. election. Russian interference in the 2016 election was a wake-up call for many. As Brainstorm host Michal Lev-Ram says, it was the first time the public realized social media platforms could do more harm than good in the world.
Fast forward to today. What have the platforms done to battle misinformation? How effective have their changes been? And how will all of this impact the 2020 election?
Lev-Ram, along with co-host Brian O’Keefe, turn to three experts for answers: tech investor turned activist Roger McNamee, MIT Professor and author of “The Hype Machine,” Sinan Aral, and Data Sheet’s own Danielle Abril.
Listen to the episode here.