President Donald Trump, via his Twitter account, recently prompted a public discussion about the possibility of using antitrust law against major technology companies, due in part to a growing body of evidence that bias is being perpetrated against conservative individuals and entities by such companies.
The primary rationale of antitrust enforcement is the protection of the American consumer and free market economy from unprincipled business behavior by monopolistic enterprises.
Never before in the nation’s history have companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, among others, possessed the size, wealth, dominance, control, and sheer power that the tech giants do.
With more than 70 percent of the PC search market and almost 85 percent of the mobile device market, Google currently has a virtual stranglehold on the gateway to digital information. And Google’s video social media platform, YouTube, controls almost 80 percent of the video market.
Facebook has about 2 billion users worldwide, and when the company’s additional acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp are factored in, 95 percent of young people regularly log on to Facebook platforms.
When it comes to Amazon, by the year’s end the company will have swallowed up almost 50 percent of the U.S. e-commerce business, and additionally lays claim to 80 percent of the e-book market. Amazon is also the largest provider of hosted cloud services, and the odds are strong that an online sales firm that competes with the company would likely be using Amazon servers for its own website.
Research on Google searches has produced data, which indicate that bias against conservative news outlets, blogs, and websites exists, and additionally indicate that ideologically right-of-center content has actually been removed from YouTube.
Despite Google’s denial of bias, PJMedia recently conducted a count of search results relating to President Trump and found that 96 percent of the most visible news articles that arose were generated from liberal outlets.
The Daily Caller reported that Google’s fact check feature engages almost exclusively in the targeting of right-of-center sites.
Facebook has exhibited bias in its trending topics, as well as in its removal of conservative content, and Amazon has manipulated book reviews to favor leftist writers.
Despite promises to the contrary, Facebook continues to censor ideas based on conservative content and has recently been caught doing so. A New York Post article by Salena Zito, which noted that supporters of President Trump were unaffected by the conviction and plea deal of two prominent Trump-associated individuals, Zito’s article was labeled as “spam.”
Facebook even took down an article titled “The School Shootings That Weren’t,” posted by NPR, that showed the number of school shootings, which were claimed to have taken place during the 2015–2016 school year, was highly inflated.
The president is correct in suggesting that the use of antitrust law against tech companies may be a necessary step that the government needs to take in order to awaken the tech giants to the duty that they have, to exercise greater responsibility in their approach to users and content. If they do not, consequences may result as seen with other companies, which were divided into smaller less monopolistic concerns.
In a previous antitrust filing, AT&T was split up into eight much smaller companies, and Standard Oil was divided into 34 firms. Each of these companies possessed the ability to almost totally dominate their respective market. The original AT&T accounted for 93 percent of all telephone calls made in the U.S., and Standard Oil sold 87 percent of U.S. refined oil.
An antitrust case that began in the early years of former President Bill Clinton’s administration was ultimately settled by the Department of Justice. Microsoft had been accused of abusing monopoly power on personal computers, in its handling of operating system and web browser sales, by bundling its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system.
Microsoft’s actions are strikingly similar to a recent Google business practice. To insure its dominance of the mobile market, Google forced carriers and manufactures that used its Android operating system to make Google Search the default search engine and include a number of Google apps as well.
In 2008 the Bush Justice Department threatened to bring an antitrust action against Google, due to a proposed partnership with Yahoo for the sale of advertising. At the time, Google had a 70 percent share of the market, and Yahoo, with 20 percent, was the second largest search engine.
Due to the monopolistic realities of these giant tech companies, startups that might compete with the giants may end up being smothered. For example, an entrepreneurial startup company with products that compete with Google offerings has to be concerned that Google will give its own product a higher ranking and may even hide the new company’s competing products.
This poses a danger to the overall consumer market, because consumers lose the ability to become aware of and/or purchase any innovative products that startup companies might have to offer.
Both Google and Facebook maintain that their companies should not be the subject of antitrust scrutiny, because their product is said to be provided to their users free of charge. However, participants who are obtaining the services for free are not the actual customers of the companies. The real paying customers, in both search and social media, are the advertisers and publishers that pay for the ability to broaden their own pool of consumers.
The argument can be made that the big tech companies, via paid search advertising and paid social media advertising, have morphed into monopolies, and these monopolies have effectively stifled competition and innovation, while having a deleterious effect on the free market economy.