The United States House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust has released its antitrust project that looks like a 449-page indictment. Its goal is to stop the big tech’s monopoly power through structural separations, prohibition against future acquisitions by the dominant platforms, intense patrolling and fines by supervisory authorities. This work has lasted 16 months and even the pandemic did not stop it: over a million documents have been inspected and hundreds of testimonies (of CEOs’ tech giants such as Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg and their competitors) have been listened. This report contains, not surprisingly, 120 times the keyword “monopoly”.
The US and global tech leaders have received a serious judgment: the four big companies considered as “scrappy start-ups” have become “the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons” the report reads. “Although these firms have delivered clear benefits to society, their dominance has come at a price”. They have abused their dominant positions on the digital frontier, dictating prices and rules for commerce, search engines, advertising, social networking services and publishing. This judgment has been supported by the Democratic majority, led by MPs Jerrold Nadler and David Cicilline, but not by all the Republicans. Actually all political leanings have criticized tech leaders, but the corrective measures to be taken have not received a unanimous “vote”.
Four conservatives, led by MP Ken Buck, have supported a series of measures (considered inadequate with respect to the huge growth of the protagonists) to strengthen the budgets and intervention capacities of the antitrust authorities. Jim Jordan, ranking Republican member on the House Judiciary Committee, has accused Democrats of ignoring the only important aspect of the violations committed by internet giants, that is the discrimination against conservative voices. Google is targeted for its monopoly in search and search advertising. It would use anti-competitive activities such as adding information from third parties without permission in order to improve both quality and search results.
Amazon is targeted as well, it rules several areas, especially e-commerce where it sells products that compete with independent retailers who use its platform. The company, in its services, also promotes its own products damaging the others. 2.3 million retailers sell via Amazon, and 37% of the platform is the only source of revenue. Amazon, in its large cloud business, also has damaged developers. Apple is accused of monopoly in the iPhone and iPad app market, a reality that allows it to snatch commissions of 30% on app sales. The corporate protagonists have reacted quickly. While Apple and Google have decided to study the report, Amazon and Facebook have criticized it. Amazon has said that instead of facilitating competition, it would reduce it and instead of helping small businesses, it would damage them, “forcing millions independent retailers to leave online stores”. Facebook has once again protected its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, approved by the authorities but now under indictment because they have eliminated potential growing competitors.