House Antitrust Report on Big Tech: Less Would Have Been More

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Cheyne Gateley/VIP

By now, you’ve probably heard that the Democratic-led House antitrust subcommittee released its landmark report that wraps up a 16-month investigation into the market power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

Less likely: that you read the whole report, which stands at a brisk 449 pages. In other words, if you spent one minute per page, the subcommittee’s report would be about a 7.5-hour read for you.

And therein lies the issue with the top Democratic lawmakers’ document, which is aimed at making some of the most sweeping antitrust law changes in decades.

Its length is impressive. If not signaling thoroughness to readers, it might at minimum make sense because it’s capping off a year-plus-long antitrust investigation of four massive companies.

On the other hand, the report itself is allowed to hide behind its length, sometimes shielding questionable arguments seemingly based on outdated examples that might have otherwise been seen if there was less for readers to sort through.

For example, about a third of the way into the report, a case is built for Facebook’s alleged monopolistic tendencies. There, a chart shows Facebook controlled nearly “95% of all social media” in the U.S. in terms of monthly minutes of use.

That chart is from 2012 and lists Myspace as a main competing social platform.

It also fails to mention near that chart how younger users (18-24s) now by far spend more time on TikTok.

Another questionable example includes the document’s mention of Amazon Kindle’s dominance in the e-book marketplace, which as tech analyst Benedict Evans pointed out, includes no accompanying note that this dominance is in part due to how the DOJ blocked an effort to make the market more competitive.

The document also doesn’t make it clear when mentioning Apple doesn’t allow for alternative app stores that keeping such a tight grip on iOS app distribution, while sometimes leading to developer headaches (see Hey and Epic Games), also helps ensure there is one central body that can verify, you know, that apps iPhone users download aren’t viruses.

Still, although the report obviously has an angle, it doesn’t completely refuse to throw the tech giants a bone here and there. In the introductory portion of the report, it’s mentioned that Apple’s mobile ecosystem has created “significant value to app developers and consumers.”

It also later on acknowledges an Apple-commissioned study that found players like Google and Amazon charge identical or similar commissions on software downloads and transactions, for example.

But even if you just skimmed through the report, you’d probably see more bad accusations about the market dominance of the tech giants than good things.

Or you might have just encountered a few discussions of tech giants that seem lacking context or outdated, such as those mentioned above.

Because of that, it might have been better for the subcommittee to focus on slimming down its report, even just somewhat to lose the not-bulletproof arguments, before releasing it.

That would have made it more digestible, and maybe even less open to criticisms. Evans called the report “more like a grab-bag of Google searches than analysis.”

From here on out, the report serves as more of a potential roadmap to deal with antitrust laws more so than a list of what is to immediately unfold.

While the subcommittee recommends a bevy of options to deal with tech giants, most notably calling for “structural separation” of certain online platforms, Bloomberg reported that “any real legislative” action won’t happen until 2021 anyways.

How tech giants are dealt with soon will have a lot to do with the winner of the upcoming election, with a Biden win suggesting tech giants will be addressed more harshly.

Even with that being a possibility, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google would still largely prefer a Biden presidency though, donation data suggests.

Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are among the top 10 contributors to Joe Biden’s candidate campaign committee in the 2020 cycle, according to OpenSecrets.

Companies are prohibited by law from donating to candidates themselves. The contributions were made by company employees, companies’ political action committees (PACs) or members of the PAC.