Dec 11, 2018 - Technology

What's the fuss about bigness?

Bill Gates with thought bubbles that resemble Earth

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Governments and workers on both sides of the Atlantic are decrying the outsized influence of big companies. Bill Gates, however, doesn't understand the fuss.

I don't see anyone that is really broken.
— Gates, speaking with Axios

The backdrop: Gates was in the trenches in 2000 when Microsoft was battling the U.S. government so as not to be broken up for alleged violations of antitrust laws. Now, with the microscope on his competition — Amazon, Google and Facebook — he cautions against what he suggests is a denunciation of bigness for bigness' sake.

"I don't think attacking bigness in and of itself is the right thing. I think you have to look at competitive dynamics and say, 'Okay, how can you unleash those dynamics,' and get into very specific policies," Gates told Axios.

What's happening: Regulators and thinkers in the U.S. and Europe are tying bigness to low wages and poor working conditions. They're saying Facebook's and Google's massive troves of data are threats to privacy, not to mention big elections. And they're questioning Amazon's practice of competing against the very small businesses that sell on its platform.

  • Responds Gates: "[S]trangely, right now, the companies that are the most innovative are ending up having fairly high market shares. But there are ways that people may not anticipate that there will be a lot of competition."

We emailed Tim Wu, author of "The Curse of Bigness," for a counterpoint.

"That's a bit surprising, given that Microsoft spent so much time and money arguing that Google was illegally competing with Bing," Wu said in an email exchange, referring to Microsoft's 2011 antitrust complaint against Google's domination of search. "I think we're actually in an era of low-hanging fruit, antitrust-wise."

Wu suggested who the government should go after first: Ticketmaster and Live Nation merger, the AT&T and Time Warner merger, and Big Pharma, among others. And, in a post at Medium, he provided a more complete antitrust hit list.

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