GUEST EDITORIAL: Break up Big Tech

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
FILE - In this March 29, 2018, file photo, is the logo for social media giant Facebook at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. Facebook has removed more than 275 accounts that used fake profile to pose as conservative Americans. The platform announced Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, that it's also banned an Arizona-based marketing firm that its investigation found was behind the fake accounts. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

It's time to rein in Big Tech.

That's what the U.S. House says. And both presidential candidates should agree.

Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple dominate the digital and retail world. They profit from and play fast and loose with personal data on individuals. They stifle competition. They control access to news and information, smothering curated and carefully researched news products.

These companies are monopolies like the big oil and railroad trusts busted up in the early 1900s. But their products matter more than oil and their methods are worse than the monopolies of old.

These are the conclusions of a 449-page House antitrust subcommittee report that calls for vigorous action against Big Tech and provides a road map to do just that.

Those recommendations should be embraced by both parties and by President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden — ideally the two could do so jointly — with the understanding that, whoever wins the election, the federal government will move rapidly against Big Tech's monopolies.

The next presidential debate, when it occurs, or a joint appearance to espouse the breakup of these corporations would be ideal.

Big Tech, full of arrogance, won't be lassoed and put under saddle without a fight. Not surprisingly, the subcommittee's report avers that testimony by company executives was often "evasive and non-responsive" and raised questions over whether these companies believe they are subject to any oversight whatsoever.

Congress, the president and the Justice Department need to tell the bullies that their rule over the virtual and retail playground is over.

The subcommittee provided a wealth of detail on the anti-competitive nature of the four giant companies. When potential competitors come along, they're gobbled up or destroyed by other means — including "killer acquisitions," which means a company is bought and then shuttered or its product line killed off. Facebook owns Instagram and bought up a long list of competitors over the years. Joining the party with their own mergers and outright purchases of competitors or niche companies are Apple, Google and Amazon.

Internet searches drive people not to the best information or best prices, but to the platforms and markets controlled by these companies. So Big Tech becomes Big Brother. It knows our preferences, political ideology and reading habits. It knows the mouthwash we prefer.

The recommendations of the subcommittee are no more onerous than other laws that require competition — laws which regulate banks and television networks. The recommendations include addressing anti-competitive conduct in digital markets; strengthening merger and acquisition enforcement; and improving the administration of antitrust laws. The recommendations also call for limiting the different lines of businesses owned by the corporations.

Tough new antitrust laws written for the digital age, and a Justice Department willing to enforce them, are needed sooner, not later. And whether the next president is Donald Trump or Joe Biden, taking on Big Tech must be a high and immediate priority.

Monopolies are anti-competitive and arguably anti-American. But these particular monopolies present a threat to the free press and the privacy of Americans. Protect the privacy of Americans, embrace competition, and protect free speech. Put an end to Big Tech's monopoly power. Break them up.

— From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board.