Our elected leaders in Utah are venturing into taking on Big Tech. At first, it seems like a fight worth pursuing, but such efforts are misguided. The means by which our elected officials seek to take on tech could impose lasting harm on our legal system and economy.
State Attorney General Sean Reyes, alongside several other attorneys general, are pursuing an antitrust investigation into Google. Sen. Mike Lee is also diving into the antitrust waters. He recently announced a Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy & Consumer Rights hearing where he will be inquiring into Google’s market power in the digital advertising space.
Sen. Lee and Attorney General Reyes are right to be skeptical, and it would behoove all of us to scrutinize tech and the power that it wields. Republicans are rightfully concerned that tech is censoring conservatives, while Democrats have raised issue with how tech handles data privacy. Both are valid criticisms, but neither are related to antitrust.
Antitrust laws are intended to deal with instances where a company has a monopoly and is using that monopoly power to thwart competition and harm consumers. Tech companies, like Google and Facebook, fail to meet this basic threshold for legal action since they offer their products for free, meaning there is no consumer harm. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission spent years investigating this very issue, and a bipartisan panel unanimously concluded that Google’s business practices (with respect to search bias) were not “on balance, demonstrably anticompetitive.”
Given that there is no legal basis for pursuing antitrust against tech and that federal regulators have already put this issue to bed, our elected officials in Utah should avoid relitigating the past. Using antitrust laws to achieve political ends undermines the rule of law. Sen. Lee has agreed with this assessment. Sen. Lee wrote that “Facebook, Google (and) others have big problems, but antitrust law is not the answer.” He explained that he has issues with these tech companies stifling conservative viewpoints, but concluded that “(t)rying to shoehorn antitrust to address some of these problems invites mischief.” We should not be politicizing our antitrust laws; and doing so would create a dangerous precedent and allow policymakers to punish political foes without any legal basis.
Attorney General Reyes, who is weighing a potential antitrust lawsuit against Google, would be wise to listen to Sen. Lee’s words. Reyes’ biggest backers, Oracle and Yelp, also happen to be two of Google’s biggest competitors. While there is no evidence that Reyes is assisting his political allies by pursuing antitrust into his allies’ competitors, he should nonetheless take heed of Sen. Lee’s words and do everything possible to ensure that there isn’t even the appearance that our antitrust laws are being politicized (even if that means recusing himself from the case).
It’s easy to look at everything that is wrong with tech and encourage antitrust actions, but we must also remember that these are American companies creating high-skilled American jobs. In Utah, the tech industry directly employs 118,621 workers and provides $9.5 billion in wages, benefits, and self-employment income according to a 2019 University of Utah report. These companies invent, innovate, and most significantly, help provide for American families and generate economic growth.
Should we decide to use a sledgehammer to break up these great American tech companies, a void will surely be created in the marketplace. Companies, like those sponsored by the Chinese government (think TikTok and Huawei), will be eager to fill that void. This will not only have a devastating and lasting impact on America’s position as an economic powerhouse, but it also poses a grave threat to our country’s national security. Allowing Chinese government-sponsored companies to become our main provider of technology would be nothing short of dangerous (particularly if we are concerned with our data privacy).
While our Utah elected officials are deliberating antitrust actions, they should remember what is at stake. To pursue antitrust claims against tech would politicize our antitrust laws, harm the American economy, and undermine our country’s national security. The cold truth that our elected officials in Utah must remember is that although going after tech is politically convenient, it is not what is best for America.
Suzanne Gleed is the president of SGW Investments.