The Battle That Will Define Big Tech for Decades
Google’s antitrust case won’t reshape the industry. But it’s the start of something that might.
The Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit against Google got a lot of attention this week, and understandably so. It mirrors the landmark antitrust case against Microsoft two decades ago, which stands as the prototypical example of the U.S. government grappling with a big tech company’s power.
But it is also, in many ways, a narrow case: It focuses exclusively on Google’s dominance of internet search and search ads, and rests on established laws and precedents. Even if successful, it’s unlikely to significantly curtail the massive reach or influence of Google’s trillion-dollar parent company, Alphabet. And it has nothing to say about other pressing issues raised by the culture and commercial ascendance of internet platforms, such as their personal data collection, digital surveillance, engagement algorithms, implicit biases, concentration of wealth and power, employment practices, or control over the flow of online information.
I’ve already written in depth about the lawsuit itself, so for this week’s Pattern Matching, I thought it might be useful to step back and review the big picture of tech regulation, so as to better perceive the shape and scope of the single puzzle piece that is the Google antitrust case.
When you start to realize how many other pieces there are, and how far they all are from coming together, it becomes clear that this will be a work in progress for not just years, but possibly decades to come. But its formative salvos may help to shape its course — and those are happening now.
The battle of Big Tech is just beginning.
- History tells us that trust-busting takes time. Federal antitrust law has its beginnings in the 1880s, when the rise of sprawling conglomerates such as Standard Oil sparked demand for protection of both consumers and independent businesses. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 laid the legal groundwork for federal intervention, and the first trustbusting era began in earnest with the 1904 breakup of Northern Securities, a…