Big Tech has been in the global news for a variety of reasons - but for those who follow international economic law, they have been in the news on two critical counts - anti-trust and digital services tax. I have blogged about the digital services tax issue here, here and here.
On the anti-trust/anti-competition front there has been a long battle between the State and the large tech firms across jurisdictions - whether it is the US (traditionally), or the EU and more recently China.
A set of articles in the Project Syndicate addresses the varyng approaches of the US, EU and China in addressing the issue of the monopolistic or anti-competitive tendensies of the big tech firms like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. Who is setting the rules on this engagement? How different are they? Are they enough to address the issues of privacy, antitrust and taxes?
Anu Bradford argues that the US is losing out to the EU in setting the ruls of the game. The EU is working aggressively on it and two new laws - the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are intended to make it easier to make these large tech companies accountable for their action in the EU market. Will these two approaches become the gold standard for other countries to follow?
The US approach of anti-trust is analysed by Eric Posner in this piece but he argues that thsi approach may not be enough to challenge monopolistic tendencies. he raisesan important point of consumer benefit. Even though there may be concentration and large monopolistic profits, arent consumers benefitted immensely? Don't we all benefit from gmail, online shopping on Amazon and some great movies on Netflix? Well, the cost is our data being used - but the benefit far outweighs the cost of privacy? he contends:
Back then, monopolists like Standard Oil were widely loathed, depicted by cartoonists as malevolent octopuses. Now, the tech monopolists are among America’s most admired companies. Especially in the context of the pandemic, millions of Americans have depended on Amazon for household goods, and used Facebook to maintain contact with family and friends. Pretty much everyone is now addicted to Netflix, YouTube, and their smartphones.
Some of these people will serve as jurors in antitrust cases, others as judges – and all of them are voters. Legal and regulatory changes are overdue, but the hard work of transforming public opinion remains.
China has been a late entrant to the challenge to big tech - its action against Ant Corp. Angela Huyue Zhang argues that it is just following a larger global trend:
To be sure, the Chinese government has legitimate reasons to be vigilant toward the country’s highly concentrated internet sector. By targeting superstar firms like Alibaba, China is following a global regulatory trend, with US and European Union policymakers similarly vowing to impose tougher sanctions against monopolistic internet giants.
Minxin Pie has a totally different take pn the approach of China on antitrust. He argues that the anti-trust is actually pro-monoploy in a poltical sense.
It s interesting to see varying approaches to big tech around the world. How significant are the differences in approaches of the US, EU and China in tackling the alleged challenge of big tech? Where is the consumer in this debate? Who will set the agenda on this issue in the coming years? Will there be implications for international economic law in terms of non-discrimination principles? Will there continue to be heteredox approaches to address the anti-trust issue around the world - are the socio-political milieus too divergent for a global standard?