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Monopoly Update: Are Regulators In The US Really Doing Something?

US antitrust authorities have slept for at least a decade when it come to tech. But something may be looming. The US Justice Department might be on its way with cases against two monopolies, Google and Amazon. Meanwhile, both the UK, Germany and Italy are showing monopolies teeth, while Facebook and Google are showing off real incidious monopoly behavour in Australia, Denmark and Europe.

By the end of September 2020, an antitrust case from the US Justice Department against Google might be ready, according to The New York Times. A coalition of 50 states and territories support an antitrust action against Google, who controls over 90 percent of web searches globally, and is critized for abusing its dominance in various ways with the most dominant browser Chrome, its Search, Maps, Youtube and Android.

Anti-monopoly activist Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute and author of “Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction” tells the MarkUp:

“Big Tech have consolidated control over most of the internet at this point. And they use their power in ways that threatened our democracy. They threatened the free flow of information. They threaten your ability to speak your mind. They threaten the ability of journalists to do their work and editors to do their work and publishers to publish the news. They manipulate information flows in this country between our leaders, our representatives and us.”

Another US antitrust case is looming, according the The Wall Street Journal. The Federal Trade Commission versus Facebook is expected to launch by the end of the year. 

Germany has been after Facebook for a long ting.  The German authorities believes Facebook broke competition laws by combining data it collected about users across its different platforms, including WhatsApp (which the company promised never would happen, when it bought WhatsApp) and Instagram, as well as from outside websites and third-party apps (which is the business model of Facebook). Facebook tried to appeal, but lost.  The German authorities argued that Facebook unfairly used its dominance to collect data of third-party sites and concluded that consumers faced a false choice: Agree to hand over vast amounts of personal data or not use Facebook. The German case is closely watched by the EU commission anti-trust unit.

Italy’s watchdog is going after Google (and Apple and Dropbox): All three cloud storage services are being investigated over complaints of unfair practices related to the collection of user data for commercial purposes — such as a lack of proper information or valid consent for such commercial data collection .

The U.K.’s antitrust watchdog is after Amazon. But only regarding the retail giant’s investment into Deliveroo. It is pressured to include online review manipulation in its investigation. The EU is planning antitrust case vs Amazon. The commission – and many others – accuse Amazon of scooping up data from third-party sellers and using that information to compete against them

In India, a group of more than 2,000 online sellers has filed an antitrust case against Amazon, alleging the U.S. company favours some retailers whose online discounts drive independent vendors out of business, a legal filing seen by Reuters showed.

Apple Out of the Loop

Even though some companies like Basecamps David Heinemeier Hansson are after Apple, it is not in a dominant position. Competition Policy Internations explains why Apple is not in the loop:
“Nor do we see any indication that the way Apple monetizes the App Store – i.e., the charging of a commission on developer sales of digital content to iOS users through the App Store – or the rules and policies that underpin this business model, could be characterized as exploitative, exclusionary or discriminatory abuses under Article 102 TFEU. Similarly, we see no evidence that Apple’s non-price-related practices, such as the privacy settings on iOS devices”

Monopoly Behaviour
While regulators are trying to stop the monopolies from abusing their power, we see bad monopoly behaviour all over. Three examples:

Facebook in Australia won’t follow a new law telling them that it has to pay publishers for distributing their content on Facebook. Publishers can just leave the platforms, says Facebook according to The Financial Times.

And Google has decided to remove all Danish music from Youtube, as Google wants to pay even less (70%) than it already pays for the streaming of Danish music, according to Koda.

In a court filing in Ireland, Facebook is threathening to leave Europe, if European regulators don’t back down and let the social network get its own way. Facebook also feels it is is being singled out, noting no other big tech company using similar methods to transfer data to the U.S. from the EU is under the same scrutiny. Here’s the affidavit.

While it is hard to believe that Facebook will leave a lucrative market as Europe, we now can only wait and see, if the US antitrust authorities are really doing something about their monopolies. It is probably going to drag out and be watered out, because the US tech industry need to be big. Really big. Otherwise it cannot beat their enemy number one: Chinese big tech.