The Week in Tech: How Much Regulation Is Too Much?
Hi. I’m Jamie Condliffe. Greetings from London. Here’s a look at the week’s tech news.
You say antitrust. I say: How much?
There is little as fashionable in 2019 as the desire to curb Big Tech’s power. But knowing how far regulators should go in putting limits on Silicon Valley’s largest companies isn’t straightforward.
At one extreme, there are calls to break up Big Tech. Senator Elizabeth Warren grabbed headlines during the week when she called for just that. Ms. Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, argued that companies shouldn’t offer their own products on platforms they controlled (like Apple’s selling apps on its App Store — something Spotify called out to European regulators on Wednesday). She also said she would roll back anticompetitive acquisitions, such as Facebook’s takeovers of Instagram and WhatsApp.
Her pitch isn’t perfect, as The New York Times’s Kevin Roose pointed out — it’s too generic, misses easy wins and overlooks some big issues. But it is a bold, inspiring rally cry for Big Tech’s biggest critics.
At the other end of the spectrum: tech companies. Ideally, the likes of Facebook and Google would love to perpetually operate in the lightly regulated world that helped them grow so quickly. But even Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, acknowledged that it was “inevitable that there will be some regulation” when he testified to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in April.
There’s plenty of room between those extremes. Take, for example, a report published Wednesday by the British government, which called for an overhaul of antitrust policies for Big Tech. Its main proposal: that a new regulator identify companies with “strategic market status,” then block some activities — such as promoting their own products or services in search results over those belonging to competitors (hello, Google!).
That, the report’s authors say, is a “more pro-business and pro-consumer solution” than “changing antitrust law to drive breakup” of businesses.