London, UK – Mumbai, India: Will antitrust law make big tech companies liable? That’s a central question that has emerged after the US Congress antitrust committee’s hearing on big tech companies ended last week.
This is a part of an on-going larger antitrust probe that begun last June on how these four big tech companies – Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook are operating their business, dominating the market and influencing consumers’ behaviour.
Antitrust law and the US Congress Antitrust Committee
The US Congress antitrust committee includes Democratic and Republican lawmakers had questioned the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook last week via video conferencing.
It was clear that the antitrust committee wanted these CEOs to testify before the members of the House Judiciary Committee to ensure they were given the opportunity to put their side. And that would mean that the entire probe was conducted with fairness and transparency.
“More than a year ago, this Subcommittee launched an investigation into digital markets. Our two objectives have been to document competition problems in the digital economy, and to evaluate whether the current antitrust framework is able to properly address them,” Chair David N. Cicilline said in his opening remark last week.
“Several of these firms also harvest and abuse people’s data to sell ads for everything from new books to dangerous ‘miracle’ cures. When everyday Americans learn how much of their data is being mined, they can’t run away fast enough. But in many cases, there is no escape from this surveillance because there is no alternative,” he had said.
In the digital era, the abuse of market power is real. The key to understanding it is to look at the control of customer data by big tech companies explained Petrone.
She elaborated that the major internet ecosystems have established near-monopolies in their respective sectors by producing apps. And that combines user interface, software code and personal data, and are controlled from their cloud servers.
“Most online data is siloed on the servers of companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, and is monetized through targeted advertising. This implies that, if users move to a rival service, they lose their data,” added Petrone.
While competition laws were not conceived for the digital economy, according to Petrone the Congress’s hearing showed “antitrust is a critical issue in for the tech giants and tackling it will probably require a reframing of existing legislation.”
Interestingly, though, the Congress antitrust committee’s probe and hearing have been closely followed and watched not just in the US but in other parts of the world also. In recent times, many countries in Europe and Asia including India are gearing up to levy a digital services tax on these big tech companies.
How Congress’ anti-trust committee acts and deals with these four big tech companies would certainly give other countries some insights and determination not bow down to them.
“Our founders would not bow before a king. Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy,” concluded Chair Cicilline.
(Image source – CEI)