Stop The Antitrust Gerrymandering
from the make-stronger-arguments, dept
The social media app TikTok was reported to have passed more than 3 billion total downloads in July and was the most downloaded app in the first half of the year. This growth is impressive as it not only was banned in India but is the first app not owned by Facebook to pass 3 billion downloads. Yet in the recent antitrust cases from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the states attorneys general against Facebook, there is little mention of the popular app.
This omission is reminiscent of politicians gerrymandering or drawing political lines to benefit their parties? candidates in re-election. Attorneys general and federal agencies have also relied on excluding competitors or narrowly defining markets to make their cases against Google and Facebook.
The FTC led lawsuit against Facebook provides a case in point. The lawsuit accuses Facebook of having a monopoly over ?personal networking services.? The FTC argues that products like LinkedIn or Twitter are different from Facebook and shouldn?t be considered as a personal networking service. TikTok with its 3 billion downloads fails to warrant a mention.
Even with these exclusions, the FTC contends that Facebook only controls approximately 60 percent of the market yet omits whatever company or companies control the other 40 percent. Unsurprisingly the judge was unconvinced of the claim that Facebook controlled 60 percent of the market and gave the FTC 30 days to amend the complaint to show their work.
As other cases against Google move through the process, they will likely face the same struggles at convincing judges due to their gerrymandering. The most recent case filed against Google for allegedly holding a monopoly on app stores in the Android mobile operating system is another example.
The lawsuit immediately fails to pass any logical test since Android is not the only, let alone the dominant, mobile platform in the United States. Apple?s iOS has the majority of users in America and is facing its own antitrust lawsuit from Epic games over its supposed app store monopoly. The states try to get around this by claiming the market is specifically “licensable” operating systems, which excludes iOS, but that only highlights how this is gerrymandering the definition to get to a desired outcome.
Even ignoring Apple, the Android system is extremely open allowing users to download a variety of app stores and even allowing for ?sideloading? or downloading apps directly from the developers without need of an app store. The ?Freedom Phone? which uses the Android operating system and purports to protect users from ?big tech? comes preloaded with its own app store for example.
The problem with these narrow definitions is that it asks judges to ignore the world in which we actually live for ones constructed for the purpose of showing targeted tech companies are monopolies.
Other lawsuits contend that Google holds a monopoly over search when Bing and DuckDuckGo are easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection at no cost. Or that Google faces stiff competition from Facebook, Amazon, and a host of other companies to say nothing of more traditional advertisements.
Like political gerrymandering, elected officials filing these cases seem to believe there is political gain for being tough on big tech. But as with poorly drawn political maps, judges are proving more skeptical. Judges play an important role in protecting a fair in neutral system from political pressure. This is true for both elections and antitrust.
Eric Peterson is the Director if the Pelican Institute for Technology and Innovation. He currently lives in New Orleans