FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Google logo is placed on the Apple Macbook in this illustration taken April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Calls for antitrust investigations are on the rise as major tech companies grow in size and influence while acquiring smaller companies along the way.

Attorney General William Barr plans to bring some sizeable antitrust lawsuits against Google this summer, with a majority of the litigation focused on the company’s ad business. The suit will take aim at the dominance of Google ads in the domain of connecting businesses with online clientele, which critics say stifles competition and steepens economic divides. Google argues that the ad marketplace is “crowded and competitive,” listing companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Oracle as competitors.

Facebook also faces antitrust litigation from the Federal Trade Commission for the company’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook recently launched “Shops” as an e-commerce competitor to giants like Amazon, a move that CEO Mark Zuckerburg argues will aid small businesses suffering during the pandemic.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Why Zuckerberg’s New Shopping Push Might Actually Work – Bloomberg – 5/21/2020
The most obvious reason why this time might be different has nothing to do with Facebook, and everything to do with the current environment. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way people shop, and forced companies to do the bulk of their business online. If there was ever a time to build a digital product catalog, it’s now.

Break Up Facebook – The Bulwark – 5/26/2020
How did Facebook become the ubiquitous shaper of America’s political consciousness—free from the constraints of regulation, competition, and respect for truth? By relentlessly smothering would-be competitors who might have offered something better. As social networking spread to the great majority of Americans, Facebook bought more than 80 companies that presumed to enter its digital space. Sometimes it absorbed them; frequently it simply shut them down. Not once did the government intervene.

So Wait, People Really Think The Barr DOJ’s Investigation Into Google Is In Good Faith? – Techdirt. – 5/26/2020
Oddly, much of the coverage of the DOJ’s potential antitrust case operated under the premise that Barr’s efforts are being conducted in good faith, and might actually result in useful remedies at the end of the battle. The problem with that assertion is multi-fold. One, Bill Barr just got done making it abundantly clear his DOJ isn’t actually interested in the rule of law. The Trump DOJ has also made it abundantly clear it’s not above weaponizing antitrust for petty grievances, as we saw with the ridiculous lawsuit against California over vehicle emissions.

The antitrust case against Google is becoming just another partisan fight – The Verge – 5/20/2020
More recently, President Trump tweeted that “the Radical Left is in total command & control of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google,” and said his administration “is working to remedy this illegal situation.” Assuming that sort of talk continues — and it’s an election year, so why wouldn’t it? — the antitrust case could be recast in the public imagination as a partisan fight against content moderation. That might be good for political action committee fundraising, but it’s hard to see how it will result in a more competitive economy.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Thomas Massie on Twitter, 5/25/2020: Government creates a monopoly by over regulating small processors and then wonders why the monopoly they created acts like a monopoly! Pass the PRIME Act now to allow farmers & small processors to compete!

Casey Mattox on Twitter, 5/26/2020: Short version: “Trump is bad. But he lies on Facebook. So people believe him and don’t know he’s bad. Therefore take Instagram away from Facebook.” It’s a bad idea even if it made sense. For more on why its a bad idea:

Kristyn Hyland on Twitter, 5/21/2020: Since the Covid-19 crisis began, the Department of Justice’s antitrust division has issued more business review letters than it had previously issued during the entire Trump administration. Read more from @BLaw#antitrust analyst @Eleanor_S_Tyler.

Jason #StayHome Kint on Twitter, 5/26/2020: Precisely. We bring up this strong-armed tactic leveraging Google’s control over ad stack to abuse consumer privacy interests in every antitrust conversation whether @TheJusticeDept@FTC@KenPaxtonTX@acccgovau@CMAgovUK@EU_Competition

ITIF on Twitter, 5/26/2020: If Google has crossed this line, then the government should pursue remedies. But tough competition by itself is not a violation of antitrust law, says @JV_Kennedy

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