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The Legal Case against Big Tech

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(BCFC/Getty Images) The reasoning behind a case against Big Tech would rest on the distinction between hosting content and promoting it.

The Ethics & Public Policy Center’s Big Tech Symposium was held a few days ago. Many of the distinguished writers and academics there called the meeting “timely,” for good reason. The debate over tech conglomerates and their potentially outsized influence on our political landscape has intensified dramatically in the past few years. The complexity of the issues discussed may have left one wondering whether there was enough clarity to move forward. If there is one point of agreement, though, it’s that we need the courts to crack down on Big Tech’s overreaches. That should be a cause for both hope and worry.

The symposium held three roundtable discussions on matters of antitrust, “common carrier” designations, and Section 230 (the law that says platforms cannot be held accountable for hosted speech, in contrast to publishers). The most salient issue in modern politics is antitrust law. The panelists on antitrust laws, University of Miami law professor John Newman, Roger Alford of Notre Dame Law School, and Mark Jamison of AEI, could agree on two main points: (1) Trust-busting could provide bipartisan common ground, and (2) enforcing antitrust laws would be technically challenging.

Newman pointed out that tech companies have two consumer bases: advertisers and users. As a result, it’s difficult to measure monopolistic activity in zero-price markets, in which firms set the price of their goods or services at $0, with consumers typically trading their personal info in exchange for the product. It’s especially tough to assess monopoly power when harm must be measured across separate, indeed conflicting, consumer groups. Jamison added that predatory behavior is especially complicated in tech sectors because companies can cross-subsidize products, cutting prices in one area of their business while raising them in another.

As a rudimentary example, take Alphabet, which operates the entire Google suite including Search and Maps. It is theoretically possible for Alphabet to remove ads on Google Search while simultaneously increasing ad pricing on Maps. In such a

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