Could The Biden Admin’s Antitrust Crusade Against Big Tech End Up Hurting Consumers?

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Jason Cohen Contributor
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President Joe Biden’s administration has targeted Big Tech with several antitrust enforcement actions that could significantly impact consumers, but while many conservatives support the efforts, others fear they may stifle innovation.

Under Biden, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is presently engaged in a lawsuit against Google, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took Meta to court, and there is a possibility of a forthcoming lawsuit against Amazon, all over alleged antitrust violations stemming from industry monopolies. Some conservatives say this enforcement will increase competition, but others say the increase in government intervention in business will harm consumers while also reducing innovation.

“Generally, antitrust enforcement is intended to help consumers by deterring anticompetitive conduct that would lead to higher prices, lower quality service, and fewer choices for consumers,” Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth told the DCNF. “DOJ must explain to the judge how Google’s contracts for search engines harm consumers. Based on public information, I am not sure how DOJ makes that case.”

The DOJ originally filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google under the Trump administration, in October 2020, alleging the company used unlawful practices to maintain a monopoly in the search and search advertising markets. In particular, the lawsuit alleges that Google has abused its dominant market position to force its search engine as the default on web browsers.

“Google’s contracts ensure that rivals cannot match the search quality ad monetisation, especially on phones,” the DOJ alleges. “Through this feedback loop, this wheel has been turning for more than 12 years. It always turns to Google’s advantage.”

Though the Biden administration did not initiate antitrust cases against Facebook and Google, since Biden took office his administration has expanded antitrust enforcement against tech companies, with the FTC under Biden appointee Lina Khan suing Microsoft over its Activision acquisition and refiling a lawsuit against Facebook.

Biden has also made antitrust reform a key part of his economic platform, calling for passing “bipartisan legislation to strengthen antitrust enforcement and prevent big online platforms from giving their own products an unfair advantage” in his February State of the Union address.

Some economists argue, however, that this strategy disincentivizes innovation by creating greater regulatory friction for companies looking to expand. Moreover, experts question whether large tech companies’ market positions actually hurts consumers, as many of their products, such as Facebook and Google search, are free to use and provide numerous benefits. There are also many other search engines that are available to use.

“This administration has used [antitrust] to go after businesses based on subjective grounds,” Pelican Institute for Public Policy chief economist Vance Ginn told the DCNF. “The consequences … are a growing reliance on lawyers instead of expanding their businesses that people are choosing to use even with competitors in the search engine market. Doing so, the administration is making it more costly for new businesses to enter the market because of legal liability and dealing with a radical antitrust policy environment.”

Google referred the DCNF to a blog post titled, “People use Google because it’s helpful,” highlighting the quality of its product and the fact that it is free of charge. (RELATED: DAVIS: Why Conservatives Must Support The DOJ Against Google)

Despite these concerns, many Republicans and conservatives have joined with Biden in advocating for stronger antitrust enforcement and legislation targeting tech companies’ market dominance. Prominent GOP lawmakers including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Colorado Rep. Ken Buck all backed legislation intended to target major tech companies.

Many conservatives also argue that stricter antitrust enforcement could ameliorate the problem of online censorship.

“Big Tech has had a stranglehold on the online marketplace of ideas for far too long,” founder and President of the Internet Accountability Project Mike Davis told the DCNF. “Consumers, especially those on the right, have had their opinions and voices silenced by the speech censors of Big Tech. Breaking up those behemoths will not only allow for more freedom of expression online, but it would allow a new era of discourse to flourish. Competition is important for all Americans, not just conservatives. Antitrust should be a nonpartisan issue as American as apple pie.”

Jake Denton, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation’s Tech Policy Center, asserts that government intervention is necessary to prevent this.

“The unchecked growth of Big Tech monopolies has gone on for too long,” Denton told the DCNF. “Silicon Valley giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have been steadily acquiring emerging startups and growing competitors, consolidating their control over the tech sector … It is no longer tenable for regulators or our lawmakers to remain on the sidelines.”

The Biden administration has recently signaled its willingness to expand its crackdown on tech companies, with the FTC charging Amazon in June for allegedly having “duped millions of consumers into unknowingly enrolling in Amazon Prime,” according to its complaint. It also claims it takes at least six clicks to cancel a Prime membership.

“Consumers could lose out on popular features like Google Maps being at the top of search results, Amazon’s Prime program, or iPhones that come ready to use with basic apps out of the box,” Cato Institute Technology Policy Research Fellow Jennifer Huddleston told the DCNF.

“The shift towards a ‘big is bad’ mentality could penalize companies for developing features that make them more popular than competitors or otherwise improve their product” Huddleston told the DCNF.

The White House referred the DCNF to speeches and studies conducted by the administration asserting that antitrust enforcement boosts economic activity and competition.

The DOJ did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment. The FTC declined to comment.

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