The rumbling of antitrust action against the digital super platforms continues. Earlier this month, the House of Representatives released a report detailing its conclusions on Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook.
The report addresses issues from buying competitors to charging excessive fees, imposing tough contract terms — especially on small businesses that use them — and extracting valuable data from customers that rely on them.
“Our investigation revealed an alarming pattern of business practices that degrade competition and stifle innovation,” committee member Val Demings, D-Fla., told the Verge. “Competition must reward the best idea, not the biggest corporate account.”
This antitrust critique is more of a Democratic than Republican one. But even the Republicans are angry at companies such as Facebook for perceived political bias in their news feeds. And if the Senate turns Democratic after the upcoming elections, the path could be clear for Congress to pass new antitrust legislation that would be appropriate for the digital 21st century.
What might this breakup look like for each of the four firms?
Apple would be impacted the least. Its antitrust issues mostly concern using the Apple store to force App and content builders to pay outsized fees to sell their wares and forcing the vendors to use the store and not work around it.
Google, Facebook and Amazon all face a tougher road, under attack in both the U.S. and European Union for monopolistic practices. Google could be asked to split off YouTube, Facebook to split off Instagram and Amazon to split off AWS, and to stop competing with its own products against its online vendors.
It is important to remember that when antitrust concerns first arose at the end of the 19th century, it took several decades of societal agitation for the Sherman antitrust act to be passed, and several more decades before it was applied to breaking up John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil trust into a series of regional (but still giant) oil companies.
The overarching question is whether it serves an information society to have three companies so dominant in the foundations of its present and future.
Twin Cities executive recruiter Isaac Cheifetz can be reached through catalytic1.com.