The US House of Representatives antitrust subcommittee released its findings last week after a year-and-a-half-long investigation of Big Tech companies Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. Right at the beginning of the 400+ page report, the committee didn’t mince words about its findings:
“To put it simply, companies that were once scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.”
Those of us in Silicon Valley who have worked up close with these firms were not surprised to find not only that these companies in particular had become de facto monopolies, but that they were using their monopoly powers to discourage competition and violate antitrust laws. In fact, I wrote just last month about how Apple has been abusing its monopolistic power in the App Store for many years. Apple’s multiple roles as the provider of the operating system, curator, and gatekeeper of the only allowed app store on the billions of devices it has sold, not to mention creator of its own applications, is an excellent example of how today’s “digital monopolies” are both similar to and different from the industrial monopolies of a century ago.
Starting in the late nineteenth century, industrialists like John D Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and others built companies that were innovative in the beginning, helping America in its rise to become the dominant economic superpower in the world. These companies became incredibly profitable precisely because they were able to corner their markets and crush competition through a combination of bullying and buying up competitors. Theodore Roosevelt broke up these monopolies in the early 20th century using the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.
Since then, we’ve seen antitrust laws dusted off to be used in