Who Controls the World?
There’s a growing concern that tech companies like Google and Amazon are becoming so large, they will soon be in control of every aspect of our lives. It’s easy to understand where the worries come from — Amazon is one of the largest online retailers in the world, and the go-to solution for the majority of modern shoppers; Google is the owner of what is, essentially, the default search engine, and also owns YouTube — arguably the easiest to use, and most popular video streaming service.
Between the two companies, they play a role in how people shop (Amazon.com; Google Express), search for information (Google.com), entertain themselves (Amazon Instant Video; YouTube), and communicate with their services (Alexa, Amazon Echo, and Google Assistant). If left unchecked, the growing consensus is they’ll become too big to stop, and will eventually stifle competition, since current laws and regulations in place aren’t enough to slow them down.
According to USA Today, Amazon alone sells over 50 percent of books sold in the U.S., has a 45 percent market share in cloud computing, and has about a 40 percent share of the online grocery market. As for Google, it has over an 80 percent share of the search engine market (as of August 2017), and has been previously reported to be capable of controlling what’s published and what’s seen using its search engine.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen echoed those fears in a speech at the 2017 Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium in Washington D.C. on September 12. During her speech, she stated “we are spiraling towards a dystopian future where a few giant technology companies will ultimately gain sustained control over our economic lives.”
However, Ohlhausen doesn’t actually believe this to be the case, citing the early 2000’s merger between AOL and Time Warner, and where AOL is today, as proof that market dominance requires more than a larger market share. She argues that as long as companies like Amazon and Google continue to grow through smart decision-making and popularity, their actions are acceptable and not subject to any regulations, which primarily focus on consumer welfare.
Regulating Tech Companies
Not everyone thinks like this of course. Groups like the New America Foundation have repeatedly criticized Amazon, pointing to how it subverts regulations by drawing attention to it’s overall convenience, and lower prices.
“We cannot cognize the potential harms to competition posed by Amazon’s dominance if we measure competition primarily through price and output,” said Lina Khan, a fellow of the organizations Open Markets program, back in January.
Speaking to USA Today in June, Khan said it’s as if CEO Jeff Bezos created a map of antitrust laws specifically to determine the best ways to avoid them.
It’s unclear what companies with substantial influence like Google, Amazon, and Facebook would do if they no longer had competition or regulations to worry about, but it’s undeniable they each continue to expand in unexpected ways.
Ohlhausen ended her speech saying she and the FTC “vigorously supported policy positions that they sometimes love and sometimes hate.” Perhaps it’s time for a conversation she doesn’t necessarily agree with; one discussing the pros and cons of tech company’s seemingly unhindered growths.