It seems antitrust is finally having a new moment in the sun. From Attorney General Nominee Bill Barr to Senator Amy Klobuchar, to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to and even President Trump, everyone is talking about antitrust in the context of Internet platforms. While antitrust is a powerful tool and essential to the proper functioning of the economy, antitrust alone cannot eliminate the full array of harms caused by highly concentrated markets. The excessive market concentration and corporate power we see today resulted not only from conservative jurisprudence and lax antitrust enforcement but also excessive deregulation. Antitrust is not sufficient to rectify the very real problems reform advocates identify.
Last week, the New York Times reported that Facebook has decided to integrate the back-end infrastructures of its three fully-owned messaging products: Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. At Public Knowledge, aware of the different nature, features, and conditions of use of these three services, we are carefully following the possible privacy and security and competition implications of this market-changing move.
Today, the Federal Trade Commission announced a consent decree in the Staples-Essendant merger. Commissioners Slaughter and Chopra dissented, arguing the consent decree would be insufficient to address their competitive concerns with the merger.
Today, YouTube announced that it would begin reducing recommendations of “borderline content” -- materials that stop short of violating the company’s community guidelines but still may be harmful -- and content that could misinform users. According to YouTube, this would include “videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11.”
Remember when Sinclair Broadcasting Group tried to buy Tribune Media? That merger would have allowed Sinclair to reach 72 percent of U.S. households -- far, far above the Federal Communications Commission’s 39 percent audience cap. Fortunately for consumers, Tribune backed out of the deal after the FCC signaled it was unwilling to approve the transaction as structured.