What the EU Gets Right—and the US Gets Wrong—About Antitrust

from Wired

THERE’S A GROWING bipartisan consensus in the US to rein in the massive power accumulated by dominant tech firms. From state capitals to Congress, officials have launched multiple investigations of whether the big four of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are now forces more for harm than good and whether their size and scale demand government action to curtail them or potentially break them up.

US regulators have not yet shown all their cards, but they should pause before arguing that too big equals anticompetitive, or seeking to break up or substantially restructure the tech giants. Instead, they might want to look to Europe.

The US and EU have long differed in their approaches to Big Tech. US regulators and legislators have focused more on the size of these companies, while the EU has focused on issues related to control of data. Most recently, the EU sued Amazon for taking undue advantage of its customer and vendor data to gain a competitive edge over the thousands of independent businesses who sell through the platform. Earlier, the EU chipped away at Apple’s questionable tax practices and Google’s management of its ad platform. It has also attempted to give individuals more control over their data through rules such as the General Data Protection Regulation, which allows individuals to opt out of cookies and data-tracking on websites they visit.

In the US, by contrast, powerful voices, from Senator Elizabeth Warren to advocates such as the Open Markets Institute, call for antitrust enforcement to break up these companies. Tuesday, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D–Connecticut) urged “a break-up of tech giants. Because they’ve misused their bigness and power.” In the executive branch, Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim, also has spoken of dismantling the big companies.

As appealing as the big stick of antitrust enforcement is to a US government with memories of breaking up Standard Oil and AT&T in the 20th century, it may be the Europeans who are getting to the real issue: the companies’ use, and abuse, of data to erect empires. As European Commission executive vice president Margrethe Vestager wrote in announcing the action against Amazon, “We do not take issue with the success of Amazon or its size. Our concern is a very specific business conduct”—Amazon’s use of its data to privilege its own products over those of other sellers.

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3 Comments

  1. This article was very informative in the way they analyzed the different approaches that the united states and the European unions are taking regarding addressing the new world issue of data collecting and anti-trust laws regulation. From the reading, the EU seems to take a more people centered approach focusing on the way peoples data are misused and exploited while the US, in typical capitalist fashion, is taking up a more size and numbers approach focusing on the controlling of the tech industries themselves. The laws and regulations that both the US and EU have in place reflect their positions on the matter of anti-trust.
    For instance, the EU has the General Data Protection Regulation, which is a rule put in place to give individuals more control over their data, and request that personal data be deleted. It allows individuals to opt out of cookies and data-tracking on websites they visit. Because of this, Microsoft announced that it would give all users control of their data including a privacy dashboard that lets any user manage their personal information. I think this is a great regulation and should be available in the US too, not just the EU, if it is not already. That raises awareness among people about just how much of their data is out there and their control of it which in my opinion can initiate the thought to be more mindful.
    it was interesting the way that these countries view the tech industries mainly the big 4 and their use of data as a resource, comparing it to the new oil. The US compares the tech industry to industries such as standard oil and the communication industries like AT&T and are seeking to regulate the tech industry and data like they did them; It is worth noting that both standard oil and AT&T were broken up. The problem that I recognize with that is that data is more complicated and harder to keep track of than oil which is physical. So, trying to use the same approach to regulate data would not work the same. In the words of the author with whom I completely agree with, “Unless their use of data is altered meaningfully, it won’t matter if they are broken up or even if firewalls are erected inside them. They will retain powerful sway over data marketplaces and exert anti-competitive pressure on smaller companies without the same access to data.”

  2. This article was very interesting as it compares the differences between the United States and the European Union on their stances and approaches against Big Tech. By Big Tech were are talking about the ‘Big Four’: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. The US has been working on controlling the size and power of these companies, while the EU has been more focused on how these companies control their data. Recently, the EU sued Amazon for taking undue advantage of its customer and vendor data to gain a competitive edge over the thousands of independent businesses who sell through the platform. I applaud the EU for having the guile to sue Amazon, as they are wealthiest company in the world and have an immense amount of power. However, the EU hasn’t been scared to take these companies head on, as they already have won cases against Apple and Google. The EU has also tried to give individuals more control over their data through rules such as the General Data Protect Regulation(GDPR). In short, the GDPR changes how companies can use and store consumer data. The GDPR should definitely be adopted into American policy, as it is effective and helps It is interesting to see this topic again, especially after completing TIDs 3 and 4. The US has been focusing on trying to break up these Big Tech companies, as many members in the Senate, especially Elizabeth Warren, have been outspoken against Big Tech. The article mentions the success of the US in breaking up AT&T and Standard Oil, which were both monopolies in their respective industries. However, the article also talks about how the EU could be onto the real problems with Big Tech, which is their unethical control and storage of consumer data. Similar to the topic of TID#4 and I personally agree with how the EU is handling the Big Tech situation. It is hard to break up some companies, as they do not own more than 50% of their industry, for example Amazon, who own 49%. But they own a minority percent in many different industries, and their power and influence is what makes them who they are. Hopefully, the US adopts a similar approach as the EU, and I also hope that they adopt the GDPR or something similar to protect consumer privacy.

  3. There is an inside joke my friends and I have when it comes to our devices. Every time one of us gets a specifically tailored ad on our one of our accounts, we say “Oh wow my FBI agent is doing such a good job!” or “My agent is doing a little too good!” Although shallow on the surface, this joke is given a much deeper appeal in regards to this article. For instance, I was browsing a website a couple days ago in search for tickets to a concert, when I opened Instagram a couple minutes later and started scrolling, there was an ad for the concert I was looking for. This ability to tailor and direct certain features and advertisements a single user is remarkable, but also concerning. So many tech companies all over the world have so much data stored on individual people, it can often cause harm on the privacy and protection we as people should have behind a screen. This article specifically offered a perspective I didn’t know existed. That of the EU. I find the EU’s focus on data protection rather than size of technology refreshing. Especially in the United States where capitalism ensures that in order to be “good” everything must be big, I find that the EU gives a much more humanized approach. The ability to openly block and/or control to data and information large companies have like Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc. keep it so that these companies don’t gain too much authority. This authority could be applied in terms of a competitive advantage or simply access to private information. Now that more public conversations are spreading to discuss the privacy allotted or rather taken by big tech companies it will be interesting to see how the US and federal government adapts.

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