Trust-Busting in the Internet Age

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Trust-Busting in the Internet Age

Over the past 120 years, trust-busting regulators have disrupted vast monopolies enjoyed by the likes of Standard Oil, IBM, and AT&T.  And now, they appear poised to roll-out a comparable offensive designed for the Internet age.

FACEBOOK, AMAZON, Apple, Google, and Netflix are likely to face aggressive trust-busting enforcement, especially if Donald Trump serves two terms. 

During the Obama years the largest Silicon Valley firms carefully courted the people in the White House, even as their down-ballot allies were decimated.  Today, the “Internet Robber Barons” have dramatically fewer powerful friends left in Washington or most of the state capitals.  Their best friends in Congress are in the minority.  Friendly regulators are being rapidly replaced by those who have little reason to give them the “benefit of the doubt.”  And, with many vacancies to be filled, the judiciary is taking on a less friendly demeanor as each day passes.  

Outside the United States, the regulatory environment has been less-than-friendly for some time.  On June 27, 2017 the EU fined Google $2.7 billion for alleged monopolistic or unfair trade practices. Google has appealed and is now preparing its defense.

The EU’s case asserts, among other things, that Google unfairly exploits its dominance in search engines and smartphone operating systems to restrict competition in shopping services, ad placement services, and smartphone app store markets.

Furthermore, today’s monopolies are not just pushing hard against the traditional metrics used by trust-busters, but they are building new 21st century “info monopolies” that regulators are almost certain to challenge.  According to experts at the Boston Consulting Group, “the coming battle in antitrust will not be about controlling markets in the traditional sense. It will be about the battle for control over consumer information. The tech titans are currently in a race to see which of them can build a better digital replica of their consumers, which means finding a way not just to collect user data but also to make it harder for competitors to do so. Tomorrow’s monopolies won’t be able to be measured just by how much they sell us.  They’ll be based on how much they know about us and how much better they can predict our behavior than competitors.”

The new battle is for control of the digital replica of every individual.  Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and other such “digital titans” are already battling for dominance in this realm, fighting over who possesses a more complete digital replica of the most individuals...

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