Fifty attorney generals, representing 48 US states and also Puerto Rico and Washington DC, announced they will join Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas in an antitrust investigation of Google and Facebook. "We have seen evidence that Google’s business practices may have undermined consumer choice, stifled innovation, violated users’ privacy and put Google in control of the flow and dissemination of online information”, said Paxton.
It's part of a wave: 11 cases have been brought against Facebook for antitrust, privacy and discrimination violations, with $5 billion already issued in fines, while Apple and Amazon are also up against three antitrust investigations. .
Over the past 10 years, our information has been consolidated to a degree we’ve never seen before. Advertising is the prominent business model for journalism and has been its financial lifeline in the digital age. Now, due to Google and Facebook's near monopoly on digital advertising, nearly half of all newspaper journalism jobs have been eliminated since 2007. Both companies force publishers to hand over data about readers and subscribers which solidifies their control, as data is what advertisers want most.
Information has always attracted advertising, but with a crucial difference: whereas newspapers and magazines produce content that attracts viewers, in big data advertising the revenue comes from information about the consumers themselves. The attorney generals want to investigate whether it's not only unfair but uncompetitive.
Google, by some estimates, takes nearly a third of global online ad revenues. The questions now is in how government will choose to regulate the companies' positions if wrong doing is proven, as both tech giants provide massive value to the US economy and global influence.
Over the last few years, the tech lobby has grown incredibly influential and have been allowed to regulate themselves. Is this about to change? Will enough evidence of anti-competitive practices be found to take action?
How can we best evolve our ancient anti-trust laws for the modern digital age? What ramifications could this have towards how we value and monetize personal data? Is it possible to go back to a competitive advertising market despite big tech's treasure trove of data for analytics? Or is there another way forward?