House Antitrust chairman David Cicilline's interview with The Verge's Nilay Patel reveals the exciting shifts in how Congress thinks about Big Tech's monopolies.
Cicilline doesn't think Congress can break up Big Tech, though he moots passing a "Glass-Steagall for tech" that makes tech companies engage in "structural separation" — for example, platform companies would not be allowed to compete with the companies that use their platforms. And he wants to do a lot more scrutiny of mergers in the future, which is an outstanding idea.
I'm worried, though, that if they start blocking future mergers but don't unwind past mergers, they'll just lock in the monopolies of the companies that did their merging in the past — for example, if future Google competitors can't buy ad-tech companies but Google gets to keep Doubleclick, it basically guarantees Google's eternal dominance. I'm not saying we should allow future search companies to buy ad-tech companies, rather, advocating for breaking Google up on structural lines.
Also notably absent from the conversation: breakups of other industries, like ISPs, entertainment conglomerates, banks, etc, etc.
But I do think that the other suggestion that Sen. Warren has made is a really interesting one and something I think about a lot: the notion of "You can be either a platform or you can be a manufacturer or a producer of services, but you can't do both." Sort of the Glass-Steagall of the internet. It's kind of an interesting idea because people go to a platform thinking, somehow, when they do a search, there's some neutral way that evidence is reviewed, and you're provided with a result from that search.
Well, we know that that is not the case, the way items get into the Amazon buy box. And Amazon used its own private label to promote it or promotes its own goods. It creates sort of an inherent conflict. You know, you're both a platform and a manufacturer of goods. And so it's kind of an interesting idea to think: should you at least separate out those functions and say you can be one or the other, but you can't be both?
I think these companies are too big, and we've allowed them to exercise monopoly power. We have to figure out how to correct that. I'm looking at kind of what are the current antitrust tools that are available to antitrust enforcers, and how we might use those to promote competition. But there is not a mechanism that I can think of that would allow us, as Congress, to go and break up a particular company. I think we can do a lot of things to correct the absence of competition in that space. Everything is on the table, in my view. But I have to think long and hard about how we could, in a congressional enactment, actually break up a company.
Tech companies are "too big," says House Antitrust chairman David Cicilline [Nilay Patel/The Verge]