While some pundits might find it unlikely that President Joe Biden would threaten the reach or influence of Big Tech firms in any fundamental way, others believe such a change is already underway.
Americans have increasingly turned on Silicon Valley in recent years, with the latest reports projecting that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is likely to pursue strict oversight under the current administration.
“A big shift”
The indicators come amid growing concern over the reach many tech firms have amassed in the daily lives of millions of Americans. Specifically, conservatives have sounded the alarm regarding perceived censorship of right-wing viewpoints.
Furthermore, massive companies like Amazon have seen huge profits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic while smaller businesses have largely struggled — or failed — to stay in business.
The FTC could promote a change in those trends through its work with the Justice Department to protect consumers from market monopolies.
Under the Trump administration, the commission brought a lawsuit against Facebook. Google is currently facing a lawsuit by the Department of Justice. For his part, Biden is facing pressure to expand those efforts despite his administration’s apparently cozy ties with Big Tech titans.
Matt Stoller, an antitrust expert who wrote the book Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy, identified “a big shift occurring across the government thanks to a radical change in how the public thinks about competition and monopolies.”
He is among those who believe the change in public opinion will ultimately drive unprecedented government scrutiny of Silicon Valley and some of the nation’s biggest companies.
The president currently has two open seats on the FTC’s five-person board, which will decide his administration’s course on the issue. Plenty of skeptics fear that any chance of real reform would be stymied if he taps tech lobbyists for the vacancies.
Nevertheless, there is growing support on both sides of the aisle for a more modest option that would allocate additional funding for the FTC and DOJ to investigate and respond to antitrust claims.
As former Federal Communications Commissioner adviser and Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy fellow Gigi Sohn explained: “There is bipartisan support for more resources for the agencies to bring more antitrust enforcement, which is very different than the status quo.”
Meanwhile, Congress is holding hearings on the matter and pursuing possible legislative solutions. It remains to be seen whether any meaningful reform will develop from all the added attention.