In a polarized political environment, the cause of keeping Big Tech companies (Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook) in check is one that is supported by all parties.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden wrote a rare op-ed The Wall Street Journal push for bipartisan cooperation to hold Big Tech accountable. More than an ambitious plea for bipartisan unity, the article is also a direct challenge to the Republican leadership to “shut up or shut up” in tackling Big Tech.
As Republicans feign outrage at the tech giants on the campaign trail, the likes of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Jim Jordan are dragging their heels with meaningful antitrust reform. While the public discourse around Big Tech often revolves around disinformation or alleged “censorship”, holding the tech giants (one of the largest and most far-reaching enterprises in human history) accountable means taking on their market power.
By launching the long-awaited antitrust case against Google, the Biden administration is not just taking the initiative to protect consumers from corporate abuses. Indeed, the Justice Department (DOJ) lawsuit is a welcome sign that the White House — and by extension the Democratic Party — refuses to relinquish the popular case of curbing Big Tech to the GOP.
The antitrust lawsuit filed against Google on Tuesday is the second filed by the DOJ since 2020. While the ongoing lawsuit filed more than two years ago revolves around Google’s unlawful dominance of the search engine market, the lawsuit challenges from 2023 Google’s monopoly in the advertising technology (adtech) industry. The United States has had federal laws against illegal monopolies since 1890, and the antitrust resurgence under Biden is a welcome development after decades of hands-off enforcement.
Jonathan Kanter, head of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, stated that Google illegally built an advertising monopoly by “driving out rivals, reducing competition, [and] increase advertising costs.” Kanter notes that this has meant more than just reduced publishing revenues and a decline in viable competitors for Google: it has also “damaged the exchange of information and ideas in the public sphere.”
In other words, the drawbacks of monopoly power are not abstract concerns. On the contrary, when the government gives free passage to companies that monopolize markets in violation of federal antitrust laws, it also allows them to do harm with impunity.
At a glance, antitrust may not be such a “sexy” tech policy rationale as, say, protecting online privacy or stopping misinformation. But make no mistake: unless Big Tech is downsized by directly challenging its monopoly abuses, the tech giants will continue to feel emboldened to harm users and markets.
And while technology policy in general may seem academic, an estimated 90 percent of Americans are online, meaning building a safe and fair digital ecosystem is paramount. For this reason, it should come as no surprise that studies have consistently shown that limiting Big Tech’s monopoly position is a political winner across party lines.
For example, American Family Voices polls last fall found that 75 percent of respondents want to modernize antitrust laws to do business with tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. This number includes 78 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats, respectively, a rare example of a policy that unites Americans across party lines. Morning Consult polls showed that Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike were more likely to support technology regulation efforts than to oppose such proposals.
As such, the Biden administration’s technology antitrust efforts are not only good policy, but also politically smart. By 2024, Biden and the Democratic Party would benefit from concrete achievements to hold Big Tech accountable to voters. This is especially true when you consider that Biden’s most likely Republican opponents, former President Donald Trump and Governor Ron DeSantis, have made hostility toward the tech giants central to their rhetoric.
With this in mind, both the White House and Democratic congressional leaders should make passing bipartisan antitrust legislation a top priority. Despite momentum and support from legislators from both parties, the two major bipartisan antitrust bills ultimately failed to become law in the 117th Congress.
In a way, pushing for the bipartisan technology antitrust bill to pass in the new Congress would be a guaranteed win-win for Democrats. After all, there are only two ways it could turn out, both of which would be in favor of the Democrats. If enough pressure leads the McCarthy-run House to pass the legislation, it will give Biden a chance to sign transformative, bipartisan legislation into law. And if McCarthy drags his heels, even as key members of his own party push for technical antitrust measures, it will expose his own failures of leadership on the matter.
There are few moments in politics where anyone from the democratic socialist independent senator. Bernie Sanders to the Republican Senator. Mike Lee can agree on something. When it comes to the DOJ’s lawsuit to take over Google’s adtech monopoly, however, it’s a clear winner across the political spectrum. The White House should pay close attention to this positive bipartisan reception and dig deeper into the case of holding Big Tech accountable to the public.
In the meantime, the Biden administration must ensure that it builds its own technical policy team. After working tirelessly over the past two years to rein in monopolies, Biden adviser Tim Wu left the White House this month. Given the DOJ’s new Google lawsuit, the FTC’s antitrust cases against Meta, and the likelihood of a DOJ Apple antitrust case, the White House needs strong antimonopoly policy advocates in advisory roles.