Jun 17, 2019

Competitors could arm regulators in Big Tech antitrust probes

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A proliferation of antitrust investigations into the tech giants is offering competitors a chance to sound off on claims that their larger rivals are playing dirty.

Why it matters: If the Department of Justice or Federal Trade Commission pursue formal investigations into Google, Facebook, Amazon or Apple, they’ll need all the evidence they can get. The companies that compete with them could provide that by the ton.

Driving the news: DOJ and FTC have split up authority over potentially investigating the four companies for antitrust violations — with Justice taking Google and Apple, and FTC getting Facebook and Amazon.

  • The House Judiciary Committee is simultaneously conducting its own investigation, which is expected to include obtaining information from companies that compete with the giants.

What they’re saying:

"The experiences of other players in the marketplace interacting with dominant firms is a fundamental element of any antitrust investigation."
— Gene Kimmelman, president of advocacy group Public Knowledge and a former Justice Department antitrust official

Details: Competitors and corporate critics of the giants are already helping to shape the conversation around the issue, with anecdotal and quantitative evidence.

A recent House Judiciary Committee hearing on the power that platforms like Google and Facebook have over publishers included witnesses from News Corp. and the News Media Alliance, which represents many news organizations.

  • “Although publishers technically have a choice to withhold their content from online platforms, that choice is not a meaningful one,” said David Pitofsky, News Corp.’s general counsel, in his prepared testimony. “The online platforms are simply too dominant.”
  • The News Media Alliance produced a report in advance of the hearing saying that Google had cost the news industry billions of dollars, although its methodology was heavily criticized.

On Sunday, the lyrics site Genius went public with concerns that Google had copied content from its site and displayed it in search results — which results in less traffic to the site itself.

  • “They have known about this for two years and it’s clearly unfair and anticompetitive,” said Ben Gross, Genius’ chief strategy officer, in an email.
  • Genius said that it intends to share information about its concerns with the Justice Department.
  • "The lyrics displayed in information boxes on Google Search are licensed from a variety of sources and are not scraped from sites on the web," said Google in a statement. "We're investigating this issue with our data partners and if we find that partners are not upholding good practices we will end our agreements."

The bigger picture: There are a wide variety of competitors to the four tech giants, across a range of industries from retailers to small businesses.

  • Many of them have already made their case to the FTC as part of a process of public hearings on antitrust and consumer protection, as the New York Times noted this week.

Yes, but: Speaking up can come at a cost to smaller companies, including angering the powerful corporate giants and signaling to investors that you might go under without government intervention.

  • That’s why investigators often give competitors a venue to press their case in secret.

The bottom line: Public complaints about Big Tech that arise if investigations ramp up — whether in congressional hearings or the press — may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 665,164 — Total deaths: 30,852 — Total recoveries: 140,225.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 124,665 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

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The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness the treatment of the novel coronavirus has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

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