Conservatives constantly combat “big government.” They oppose regulations and other governmental initiatives that erode individual liberty and undermine the “American way of life” through bureaucratic intrusion. This conservative resistance to the growing power of governmental departments and agencies is understandable. But there is a greater threat to individual liberty and autonomy than the one posed by big government. Conservatives should take note and join the fight.
The threat comes from the growing power of leading technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. These companies destroy jobs through automation. They manipulate people by using data about their purchasing patterns and other aspects of their lives to maximize sales and profits. They produce social media and virtual reality products that are addictive and adversely affect child development and individual autonomy. They also seem bent on building a virtual economy whose intelligence and other capabilities exceed our own.
These companies already dominate their markets. Google controls nearly 90 percent of search advertising, Facebook almost 80 percent of mobile social traffic, and Amazon about 75 percent of e-book sales. This spectacular success has created unprecedented wealth and established U.S. leadership in the technologies of the future. But recent misuse of their platforms to influence the 2016 U.S. elections and broader concerns over data privacy, control, and revenue sharing have led some to take a more critical view of these big tech companies. John McCain, the Arizona Republican senator, has joined two Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia, in sponsoring a bill called the Honest Ads Act, which would subject online political advertising to the same rules of disclosure as ads on television, print, and radio.
Meanwhile, legal scholars such as Zephyr Teachout, Lina Khan, and Michael Shapiro have urged Congress to examine the practices of big tech companies in mergers and acquisitions to determine if they violate U.S. antitrust laws. In September Klobuchar, who is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, introduced into the committee a bill called the Merger Enforcement Improvement Act, designed to give antitrust enforcers more information on the effects of mergers.