This past week and a half was a momentous one for antitrust action against the digital super platforms — Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.
On Dec. 10, the federal government and 48 states sued Facebook for illegally crushing competitors and demanded the company undo its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.
On Tuesday, the European Union announced the Digital Markets Act, under which companies deemed to be "gatekeepers" won't be allowed to rank their offerings above rivals on their own platforms or use competitors' data to compete with them. Companies such as Amazon, Apple or Google could face fines of as much as 10% of their revenue if they don't comply, while a company that has repeatedly breached the rules could face orders to divest businesses.
On Thursday, dozens of state attorneys general accused Google of illegally abusing its monopoly over the technology that delivers ads online, overcharging for them and giving itself an advantage.
The four "super platforms" are spending mightily on political lobbying in Washington, D.C., and Brussels, the E.U.'s capital, but so far to little effect. Amazingly, these companies have grown so quickly in recent years that they scare and anger the left and the right, for business reasons and speech concerns.
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 says an "interactive computer service" can't be treated as the publisher or speaker of third-party content. This protects websites from lawsuits if a user posts something illegal. There is now momentum to repeal that clause and force super platforms to take responsibility for the content on their sites. This might pacify the left's concerns about hate speech but not the right's about censorship.
Also, all four super platforms are accused of egregious monopolistic actions in torpedoing the market prospects of competitors.
It is disquieting to have a knowledge-based economy monopolized by a single digital storefront (Amazon); a single search engine (Google); and a single social media platform (Facebook).
A version of non-monopolistic capitalism is necessary for a healthy economy and society, not just in the long term but in the near term, too.
Twin Cities executive recruiter Isaac Cheifetz can be reached through catalytic1.com.