Big tech is getting too big. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google face very real threats to their significant power over our daily lives from all sides: lawsuits, federal and state legislation, international action, and a public that increasingly distrusts these companies and looks forward to greater regulation and enforcement.
Over the past several years, these companies have become bigger and more powerful, and their business decisions have had a greater impact on our daily lives and our society, from the things we buy and where we buy them to the news and opinions we see on social media. What were once considered exciting and innovative products that improved our lives have become, for some, a necessary evil with few competitors. For others, these companies provide a service that they use and enjoy. For most people, it’s likely a combination of the two.
Now we are seeing a bipartisan movement to examine these four companies by testing and expanding antitrust laws and their enforcers. Lawmakers have introduced a large number of bipartisan bills in the House and Senate. Republican and Democratic state attorneys general have signed lawsuits accusing them of anti-competitive practices and calling for monetary and structural damages. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, both now led by outspoken big tech opponents, are set to aggressively enforce antitrust laws: They have big tech in their sights. We haven’t seen this kind of testing for the tech sector since the US sued Microsoft for antitrust violations in 1998 – a lawsuit that gave rise to the same companies that are being scrutinized today. Meanwhile, Microsoft has managed to avoid the spotlight this time despite being more valuable than all of them except Apple (as of today).
And while these five companies touch our entire lives in some way — sometimes in ways we don’t realize, perhaps buried in the internet infrastructure we use all the time — many people don’t quite understand what they’re charging you with antitrust laws or what you’re doing and why it’s not quite as simple as “Break up the big tech companies” or “Let the market decide.” In this five-part series, we’ll detail the arguments for and against these companies, the challenges they face, and how they might change—and our lives—if these efforts succeed.
Apple is the king of premium phones, tablets, laptops, and watches. It’s also the king of vertical integration: it owns the iPhone, the operating system, and the App Store, which is the only way outside developers can get their apps on iPhones. Apple even makes some apps on its own. Now, the company is accused of abusing its control over its mobile devices to harm competition, stifle innovation and inflate prices. Apple says it gives its customers what they want and expect.
by Sarah Morrison
Amazon (coming soon)
Amazon dominates the e-commerce world and has a highly profitable cloud computing arm, but some say the dominance has come at a price that companies that rely on the Marketplace platform or sell directly to Amazon, warehouse workers, delivery and consumers are paying. Now, the company faces antitrust lawsuits and complaints in the United States and abroad, and the threat of laws preventing it from favoring its own products.
by Sarah Morrison
Google (coming soon)
Google is so woven into the fabric of the Internet that it is literally synonymous with Internet searches. It dominates the world’s smartphone operating systems, web browsers, email providers, search engines, and digital advertising market. Abuse of this alleged dominance has led to billions of dollars in fines for overseas antitrust violations and antitrust cases from nearly every US attorney general as well as the Department of Justice.
by Sarah Morrison And Sherine Ghaffari
Facebook (coming soon)
Facebook, now known as Meta, is a social media giant. They make billions of targeted ads based on our data and are accused of spending some of those billions to acquire potential competitors, either to kill them or use them to secure their dominance. Regulators now want to split Meta into separate companies, but that won’t be easy.
by Sherine Ghaffari And Sarah Morrison
Microsoft (coming soon)
Microsoft is one of the most valuable public companies in the world. Its Windows operating system is the most popular. It has made some huge acquisitions. It’s definitely a big tech company. However, it has largely been left out of Big Tech’s accounts, probably because it had its own version two decades ago. Microsoft’s past may be a preview of the future of the Big Tech Four.
by Sarah Morrison
Correspondents: By Sarah Morrison and Shireen Ghafari
Editors: Adam Clark Estes, Samantha Oltman
photo rate: Beta Hunarvar
Graphics: Amanda Northrop
managing editor: Nisha Sheetal
Copy Editors: Elizabeth Crane, Tim Williams
courtship: Shera Tarlow