Multistate probe of Big Tech is long overdue

The Google Inc. logo is displayed on an Apple Inc. laptop computer in Little Falls, New Jersey on July 20, 2019.
The Google Inc. logo is displayed on an Apple Inc. laptop computer in Little Falls, New Jersey on July 20, 2019. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

If you type the word “antitrust” into Google, you’ll find that the top results reveal bad news for what is likely the search engine of your choice.

A bipartisan antitrust probe has been launched by almost all state attorneys general into tech giant Alphabet, the parent company of Google, and its “potential monopolistic behavior.”

This massive legal firepower comes after news of similar investigations this summer by the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and Congress that all highlight the growing concern that Big Tech — specifically Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon — has impeded competition and hurt consumers. Data privacy also is a key issue.

The multistate antitrust probe is long overdue. These companies have created conveniences like same-day free deliveries and ways to connect with people around the world, but also have crushed smaller competitors. As consumers became more dependent on Big Tech’s services, they also became more vulnerable to incidents that have compromised private information, financial security and trust. Blatant examples include the Capital One data breach earlier this summer, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 and the Equifax breach in 2017.

The European Union issued hefty fines and imposed stricter regulations on the tech giants as early as 2014.  Canada, as well, has its own decades-old data-privacy regulation that builds on 10 principles that try to realistically balance commercial needs with the idea that privacy is a fundamental human right.

The United States, meanwhile, has straggled, slapping relatively inconsequential fines on companies that have been reckless with our data and intentionally violated federal laws and agreements to increase their bottom lines.

But that era seems to be over. The FTC fined Facebook a record $5 billion in July, showing a shift in regulators’ aggressiveness.

More oversight is needed, but it must be smart. Regulators should be wary of taking actions that could harm smaller players who often do not have the same resources and capital to abide by new restrictions. That would only ensure that Big Tech gets bigger.

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