Internet giants finally receiving long overdue legal scrutiny
After months of investigation and inquiry, the United States’ Justice Department has formally accused Google of illegally sustaining a monopoly over search and search advertising in America. The Department filed the lawsuit on October 20th in the U.S. District Court, beginning what could be a turning point in the Internet economy.
Republicans and Democrats alike have been watching big tech companies for a while now, scrutinizing the big four—Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon – as they’ve grown into corporate behemoths and played cat-and-mouse with American antitrust laws. Only now is the federal government (along with over forty states and jurisdictions that have investigated Google) finally making a move to attempt to keep these juggernauts in check.
Antitrust laws essentially make sure that American businesses cannot develop into illegal monopolies. Monopolies are illegal if they are established or maintained through improper conduct, sfor example, exclusionary or predatory acts.
Conventionally, the laws protect consumers from situations where a single company holds all of the supply. In the current digital age, though, most of these services are nominally free to consumers. Nevertheless, they can still become hegemonic at the expense of competition.
Because the site’s ascendency has left consumers with the impression that they are unaffected, superficially, Google personnel have long been able to refute the fact that they hold a proper monopoly. However, given that eighty percent of Internet searches go through Google, many politicians (and users) suspect something legally dubious at hand.
As is also the case with Amazon and Facebook there are, like an iceberg of crimes hiding beneath the waterline, these giant firms are engaged in many practices are highly anticompetitive. The behaviors, however rampant, have either gone unnoticed or, in a purported attempt to bolster internet commerce in a general way, have been intentionally overlooked by governing bodies for decades.
In order for the case to effectively convict Google on antitrust laws, the Justice Department must prove two things. First, that Google has dominance over search. Second, that it actively stifles competition in the search market through deals with other companies.
The fact that Google has dominance over search is quite hard to argue against nowadays. To sell the second part of the case, however, the DOJ will have to look into Google’s business behaviors and deals with other companies such as Apple.
Google essentially pays Apple up to $11 billion to be the default search engine on all iPhones, iPads, and Macs. This is just one example of Google buying its way to the top of the market and making sure that other search engines do not stand a chance.
Of course, Google denies doing anything illegal or sidestepping antitrust laws. The company argues that users actually retain choice when it comes to search engines, but people consistently go to Google for quality. As for the deals with companies like Apple, Google likens it to a cereal brand paying a grocery store for a better spot on the shelf. To Google, it’s simple business.
The courts, however, might not find it quite so simple, as many politicians are reframing antitrust laws in their perspective toward the case and the online marketplace.
This is not the end of the story but barely the beginning with many revelations yet to come
American antitrust laws, and how they are applied, are severely outdated. Most of them were written over a century ago when computers (let alone the Internet) were hardly a concept. Despite a few public outings where tech moguls have had to answer before Washington, the Federal government has not taken much action against these massive modern institutions. Exceptions include a 2001 antirust case against Microsoft for maintaining a monopoly over PC software and a former near-trial against Google when the Federal Trade Commission investigated the Alphabet Inc. for antitrust in the early 2010s.
Meanwhile, other countries have been far more active in holding big tech accountable. The European Union enforces much more timely antitrust policies, and has brought three cases against Google in recent years.
In America, however, Google has been riding off of the free market since its very conceptualization at Stanford University in 1998. The same could be said for Amazon, or Facebook and their respective, nearly mythic, ostensibly humble origins. While this nation’s laws and economy give companies the unique ability to grow, thrive, and expand into global phenomenon, they also have a duty to protect the people and even the playing field when those same companies abuse freedom or gain too much power.
This case will not be a short ride. It will likely take years, but such is the slow, magnificent, changing tide of justice and progress.
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