I ended last week’s post by mentioning that Francis Fukuyama has proposed a novel way to control Big Tech, using so-called “middleware” companies to break the FAANGs’ control over Internet content.
We are evaluating a variety of complaints about Big Tech to see whether our ramshackle antitrust laws represent an appropriate remedy. So far, we’ve learned that antitrust action is a clumsy approach at best. But let’s look at one more major complaint against Big Tech:
As I noted last week, virtually everywhere we go and everything we do is subject to surveillance by government and private citizens. And the person they are looking at is actually us, not some random number linked to our computers.
Internet privacy, by contrast, involves businesses following around HTTP cookies or similar data. The businesses – or, rather, computers owned by those businesses – don’t know those numbers are us, they’re just numbers.
Facebook (e.g.) might know that the computer embedded with certain cookies just bought a spatula, and Facebook (or, more likely, a business that buys information from Facebook) might try to sell a whisk to that computer. But it’s not us they know about, not our faces or our cars or our license numbers, who we’re with or what credit card we’re using.
Here, for example, is a cookie (from Wikipedia):
HTTP/1.0 200 OK Set-Cookie: LSID=DQAAAK…Eaem_vYg; Path=/accounts; Expires=Wed, 13 Jan 2021 22:23:01 GMT; Secure; HttpOnly Set-Cookie: HSID=AYQEVn…DKrdst; Domain=.foo.com; Path=/; Expires=Wed, 13 Jan 2021 22:23:01 GMT; HttpOnly Set-Cookie: SSID=Ap4P…GTEq; Domain=foo.com; Path=/; Expires=Wed, 13 Jan 2021 22:23:01 GMT; Secure; HttpOnly
If we thought that way too many antitrust laws and enforcements were ineffectual at best and counterproductive at worst, matters are about to become even more dreadful – most of the proposed enforcements will harm consumers without much denting the power of Big Tech.
Consumers won’t thank antitrust enforcers for repeating the mistakes of the past. Jessica Melugin, Competitive Enterprise Institute
From the date of enactment of the first antitrust laws during the Roman Republic right up to the present moment there have really been only three theories that have addressed the proper role of a government in controlling anticompetitive behavior.
By the mid-twentieth century antitrust enforcement in the US had become far more sophisticated than it had been for the first six decades after the Sherman Act was passed in 1890. Unfortunately, the ratio of success-to-fiasco remained roughly constant.
[So many people have asked about my views on inflation that I’m pausing my antitrust series to address that topic. Back to antitrust next week.]
Last week I suggested that the enforcement of America’s antitrust laws has made little sense since the Sherman Act was adopted in 1890. In fact, the word that comes to mind is “fiasco.”
When people who don’t like free markets (i.e., almost everybody in academia) talk about antitrust law, they almost always begin by saying something like this: “One of the core defects of market economies is the inevitability of monopolistic practices.”