Without naming any companies, the DOJ has announced that it will investigate Big Tech platforms that dominate "search, social media and retail services."
The most notable thing about the announcement is the breadth of issues that the DOJ proposes to investigate: " competition, 'stifled innovation' and the impact on consumers."
The notable thing about this is that it is a direct rebuke to the conservative (and totally batshit) theory of antitrust advanced by Ronald Reagan and failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, who claimed that antitrust law was never about fighting monopolies or ensuring competition, but rather only ever about preventing "consumer harm" in the narrowest sense: price raises in the short term.
This orthodoxy is why Amazon has not faced scrutiny for the way it has dominated the books market, while Macmillan paid millions for colluding with Apple and other publishers to fix prices, and why Brett Kavanaugh sided with liberal justices in a Supreme Court ruling that allowed an antitrust suit against Apple for price-fixing in the App Store to go ahead.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st Century: by focusing narrowly on short term price raises and neglecting anti-competitive conduct, the Borkers have allowed for massive concentration in the tech sector, which means that if you piss off half a dozen tech execs, you disappear from the public eye, prompting some Borkers to regret their stance and begin to call for extremely selective broader enforcement of anti-monopoly rules.
The move is the strongest by Attorney General William Barr towards Big Tech, which faces increased scrutiny from both political parties because of the expanded market power the companies have and the tremendous amount of consumer data they control. President Trump, a regular critic of Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos, has claimed that Facebook is biased against conservatives and recently agreed with an assessment by tech investor Peter Thiel that perhaps Google should be investigated for not working with the U.S. government on a cloud project.
The DOJ said in Tuesday’s release that it’s looking into competition, “stifled innovation” and the impact on consumers.
“Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” said Makan Delrahim, assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, in the statement. “The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”