How good are the chances of the US antitrust probe gaining more momentum under the incoming Joe Biden administration? Will the Big Tech break-up happen under the new dispensation? A powerful anti-monopoly group is piling pressure on the next administration even as the tech behemoths are facing increased scrutiny of their alleged violations and excesses.
Influential think-tank American Economic Liberties Project has said the new administration must pursue the antitrust investigation against Google and Facebook and seriously consider breaking up these companies. Similar demands from Congressmen, states and lobby groups have been raised in the past but the new development might spell more trouble for the tech giants.
American Economic Liberties Project led by none other than Sarah Miller, who is closely associated with Biden's transition team. Miller has been instrumental in 'mainstreaming' the demand for antitrust enforcement against Big Tech. The group's latest report has set out clear guidelines for antitrust enforcers in the next administration, Reuters has reported. It says the US Justice Department should expand the scope of the antitrust action against Google and Facebook.
Earlier in October the House committee had published an antitrust report that contained a thinly veiled call to break up big tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. If the recommendations of the US House of Representatives panel are accepted, the imperial tech behemoths could just be broken up.
The report contained a proposal under which the tech companies will have to mark a 'single line of business'. This was seen as a direct attempt to break up the companies. For example, Facebook, which is the biggest social media platform, also owns and operates Instagram and WhatsApp, while Google owns YouTube and Android.
The House Subcommittee for Judiciary Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law had grilled the CEOs of four major big tech companies - Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple - in July as part of its historic anti-trust hearing in July.
Bezos, Cook, Pichai and Zuckerberg Grilled in July
In the July hearing, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai Mark Zuckerberg were grilled for hours at the US House hearing. Google faced the most intense scrutiny, including questions such as if it stole content from small businesses. One of the biggest charges levelled against Amazon was that it was using third-party seller data for its own gains. It was also accused of systematically crushing businesses that thrive on its platform. Facebook was also accused of crushing competition by acquiring them, with the Instagram deal cited as an example. Zuckerberg was reminded of a 2012 conversation he had with Facebook's senior engineers wherein he had openly said his policy was to "buy just by any competitive startup."
DoJ Lawsuits Follow
Then, on October 20, the Justice Department sued Google, saying it unfairly dominated search and advertising. Again in December, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a lawsuit against Facebook, accusing it of using a "buy or bury" strategy that breaches antitrust norms.
Now, the report by the American Economic Liberties Project urges the Biden administration's attorney general nominee Merrick Garland, to publicly commit to seeking a Google breakup.
"The anti-monopoly movement is really young...We wanted to lay out a vision that people in a new administration can rally around and can use as a clear roadmap for not only what's possible but what's necessary," Miller told Reuters.