The focus of the antitrust suits against big tech companies seems to be focused on the US but it is not. It is global and whether or not it is co-ordinated in any way, it is fierce.
Google, for example, is on its fourth antitrust suit in India and when it announced it wanted to buy Fitbit, it was Australia that fired a warning shot from across the world.
China has joined the fight, albeit on the home front, delaying the world’s largest IPO by at least six months. At the last minute and following a controversial presentation, Jack Ma and colleagues were invited to join the regulator for a full and frank discussion.
China has also launched a wider attack on anti-competitive behaviour, setting in motion regulations designed to curb the power of payments and e-commerce companies.
Australia is also in on-going antitrust skirmishes with Facebook and Google about how to remunerate news companies.
One question, of course, is ‘is the campaign to curb the power of tech giants having any effect’?
So far, the answer seems to be ‘no’. Even with continuing pressure and a record-breaking fine from the EU, Google does not seem to have changed its approach in any meaningful way. And Google – and all the others – will always hide behind the defence that ‘competition is only one click away’.
It is easy to reference Standard Oil and other giants. When they got too big, the government simply broke them up. Then, of course, the pieces that were broken became even bigger.
Current times are different. For one thing, in the online world, you cannot send the police in to close down factories or petrol stations.
Public opinion will no longer be sympathetic to strict new regulation, restriction or restructuring. These maligned companies have been helping us in a pretty dark hour and it is the tech sector(s) that will lead the global economy back to health. And government’s role will be to help, not hinder, that escape.
Perhaps, instead of trying to tie the hands of big tech with antitrust suits, governments should spend that amount of time and effort in helping the start-ups, the new ideas and the next ‘big things’ work in an atmosphere that nurtures their efforts.
Such an approach would have another effect. Big tech companies love start-ups. They encourage them, they let employees start them, spin them off and get rich.
Then they buy them. In order to remain young and competitive.