The New York Times: The Week in Tech – How Is Antitrust Enforcement Changing?

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Hello, my name is Steve Lohr. I cover technology and economics for The New York Times, and I’m this week’s tour guide through recent tech news.

One of the big stories of the year has been the Big Tech companies becoming targets of major antitrust investigations by the nation’s federal enforcement agencies, Congress and states. The concern is not only the companies’ market power but also how they handle personal data, spread disinformation and amplify partisan divisions.

To someone who has covered technology and antitrust for The Times for more than two decades, this period seems different than anything I’ve seen before. To me, it raises a question: Are we entering a new, progressive era in antitrust?

The answer to that question matters a lot. The official scrutiny of the big tech companies — Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple — is just getting underway. Whether it results in meaningful curbs on the companies will depend in good part on the persistence of the investigators.

Investigations have a way of finding things. And the institutional commitment to antitrust, or lack of it, will be shaped by economics, ideas, politics and public opinion.

There are intriguing parallels with the progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th century: growing gaps in wealthconcentration of markets and a perceived threat to democracy.

Then, the technology engine was the industrial revolution. Today, it is the digital revolution. Then, the targets of enforcement were the industrial trusts, led by Standard Oil. Today, it is the digital behemoths. Then, the policy response was new antitrust laws — the Sherman Act of 1890 and the Clayton Act of 1914 — and aggressive enforcement. Today, the policy response remains to be seen.

While reporting recent stories and a few interviews last week, I’ve been struck by two things: the very different climate now compared with the one surrounding the antitrust case against Microsoft in the 1990s, and the extent of the bipartisan support for pursuing the big tech companies.

Read the full story on The New York Times.

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