Tim Wu rebuts Zuck's reasons for exempting Facebook from antitrust enforcement

Competition scholar and cyberlawyer Tim "Net Neutrality" Wu's (previously) latest book is The Curse of Bigness: a tight, beautifully argued case for restoring pre-Reagan antitrust approaches.

Wu isn't just good at laying these arguments out in static fashion: if anything, he's even more convincing when he's arguing with the most ardent defenders of monopoly.

Case in point: at a recent appearance as the Aspen Ideas Festival, Wu was asked to rebut Mark Zuckerberg's four-point case for not breaking up Facebook. Zuckerberg argues that:

1. Breaking up Facebook will create a bunch of small companies competing on growth, rather than privacy.

2. If we break up Facebook, they won't have enough money to hire 30,000 people to censor the bad things people post on social media.

3. Breaking up Facebook will allow Chinese tech companies to take over the world.

4. Facebook's acquisitions of companies like Whatsapp and Instagram were not anticompetitive.

Wu's rebuttals are just excellent.

Also, notice in that argument there's a subtle idea where big tech starts promising it's going to do government's work for it: We're going to provide security, we're going to fight Russia, and so forth. First of all, I don't think Facebook has a good track record of protecting this country against foreign attack. So if they're promising more of the same, I don't want to hear it. And I also think anyone who studies systems knows that centralized systems are dangerous, because they offer one big, giant target. Most people who have studied the Russian interference in the last election suggest that one of the problems is that you just had a couple of big targets. What would Putin have done 20 years ago in the days of the more chaotic internet? Go put some ads on Craigslist or something to try and manipulate votes? When there are just a few choke points, just a few points of control, that's when you're vulnerable to foreign interference. That's when your security problems rise.

And I think it's a terrible thing that we've let the tech sector—which was traditionally the most decentralized, the most innovative part of the economy—become a place where people want to just build companies to get bought by Facebook. That is not the kind of ambition we should have for young engineers in this country. I think it portrays a lack of faith in competition, a lack of faith in the ecosystem, and comes back to an idea of "Trust us, we're going to do it all." Well, we did trust Facebook, and they have not proven worthy of the trust. I also have a personal beef on this, because I worked in the government. We put Facebook under order for privacy violations, and they violated that order so many times we can't even count it. So why should we trust a recidivist company—a company that ignores government orders—to protect privacy, to protect the security of this country? That doesn't make any sense to me. That's why I think we need a shake-up in big tech.

Tim Wu Explains Why He Thinks Facebook Should Be Broken Up [Nicholas Thompson/Wired]

(Image: Anthony Quintano, CC-BY)