Tech giants under scanner

There is more to the congressional probe than meets the eye

AuthorPublished: 1st Aug 2020  12:00 amUpdated: 31st Jul 2020  6:49 pm

]Four of the world’s most prominent technology giants —Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook — have been put on the mat at the congressional hearing in the United States for their alleged antitrust policies and predatory market behaviour to muzzle competition. However, there is more to the congressional probe than meets the eye. Apart from genuine worries about monopoly and ethics of business, this review may well be a part of the Trump administration’s bid to bring the big technology firms to heel for what is mostly considered to be their anti-Republican attitude. Trump has had a number of run-ins with many of the technology firms and has even threatened to take action against them with executive orders. In fact, Republican Jim Jordan, who was part of the hearing, accused these firms of being “out to get conservatives.” It is time for US regulators to mull if the existing rules are sufficient to rein in these behemoths given their market power and if the laws are required to be amended for this purpose. With a combined market value of a staggering $5 trillion, these four biggies are accused of adopting business practices that cripple smaller competitors in their greed to capture a larger market share. The challenge before the Congress sub-committee is to establish whether Google and other tech firms operate as illegal monopolies in their areas of dominion.

The fireworks at the hearing by the members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust went on expected lines, focusing on the antitrust allegations. While it is not illegal for a company to be the biggest and the best in its chosen field, the exclusionary conduct or monopoly power by harming competitors is not permitted. For instance, Google is accused of dampening innovation and new business growth. However, the search giant insists it is focused on providing users with the information they are looking for. There is a perception that Google has been tailoring search results to favour its own products of businesses, a charge vehemently denied by the company. Despite the heat over the congressional review, the tech giants have reported strong financial results and their stock prices have been soaring. The strong showing demonstrates how well these behemoths are positioned to withstand significant challenges, including the scrutiny of Congress, federal investigations and a public health crisis in the form of the coronavirus pandemic. While the marathon hearing is not expected to result in any immediate political or regulatory action, it could certainly apply pressure on the antitrust regulators at the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice and set the stage for broader government probes into these companies’ business practices and the laws that have failed to rein them in.

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