A few years ago, a crackdown across the US to limit the power of the tech giants in America seemed to be in the near future.
Chief executives from Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook were dragged to Congress while Congress and President Joe Biden was putting in the position of a number of officials who are known for their shrewd views on technology.
However, efforts by Congress to create new regulations that address issues like privacy and disinformation are dead. In the courts, tech companies have won numerous high-profile victories in court cases that challenged their obligation to provide content on their platforms, as well as their right to purchase other companies.
On Tuesday the following legal battle is set to begin with a high-stakes trial which will pit Google against the federal government. Google.
It is accused of unjustly increasing its status as the most popular search engine through the payment of hundreds of millions to phone makers such as Apple and web browsers such as Mozilla to make the default choice.
Prosecutors argue that the deals provided Google the ability to handle 90% of the world’s search queries – advantages in data that it prevented competitors from gaining traction and violated US rules on competition.
The lawsuit, filed during the final months of Trump presidency in the year 2020 is being viewed as a significant case – the most significant test to the way in which the technology industry has operated in the past and is a crucial test to determine what extent the US government will succeed in its efforts to regulate the technology industry.
Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is expected to testify during the trial of 10 weeks along with officials from Apple.
“It’s the anti-trust monopolisation trial of a generation,” says Bill Baer, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former federal attorney who worked on competition issues, also known as antitrust within the US.
Some analysts think there is a solid argument,
They also noted a number of similarities to the lawsuit filed in 1998 against Microsoft in which the courts later ruled it had a monopoly over operating systems using unconstitutional, anti-competitive practices such as pre-installing Internet Explorer.
If the government is successful in this appeal it could result in Google cannot be automatically being used in the search results as well as other important modifications.
Analysts believe that this could create a chance for competitors, such as Microsoft’s Bing or ChatGPT to gain users and also data. This is a crucial change that would give consumers many options.
However, a victory for the government isn’t a guarantee.
Google has always maintained that it offers the best product and nothing other than its better offering has stopped competitors from negotiating their own contracts.
Matt Schruers, president of the tech lobby, the Computer & Communications Industry Association claims that Google can convincingly relate the agreements it has made to those between supermarkets and food producers regarding the placement of products in the stores. These agreements were analyzed in US courts and declared legal.
Mr Schruers believes it to take a long time for government officials to show that consumers have suffered which is the standard that judges monopoly power in violation of the law is assessed by the US.
“US anti-trust law does not protect competitors from their competition. It protects the competitive process in order to protect consumers,” the author says. “Here it seems like the government is picking winners and losers… and courts have traditionally rejected that view.”
As for other US court battles with tech companies for example, the fight to stop Microsoft’s purchase of the videogame maker Activision Blizzard, the government is in defeat.
The result has been a torrent of criticism from some quarters, such as certain Republicans who have claimed that Biden of Biden administration of wasting funds on cases that are certain to lose.
“Are you losing on purpose?” Republican congressman Kevin Kiley asked the head of the Federal Trade Commission, which dealt with the Microsoft-Activision dispute during a hearing held in July. A fellow Republican Jim Jordan called the method of the commission “intimidation followed by inaction”.
FTC chairman Lina Khan as well as Jonathan Kanter, who heads anti-trust at the Department of Justice, which is in charge of the Google case, have both defended their track records, pointing at times to winnings in other sectors.
However, they also acknowledge that a more competitive approach could result in losses in certain instances.
Rebecca Haw Allensworth, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, says she believes that regulators are entitled to assert progress even when they’ve lost.
“I think it’s too early to say that they’re losing the fight,” she states. “They’re winning some battles and losing some battles but the war is not over.”
This month in the month of April, the FTC is expected to bring an action against Amazon. A case involving Google’s ad-related business as well as Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram are also expected in the next few months. Google last week settled an case that was filed by US states regarding their app store.
Whatever way this lawsuit wave is dealt with, the tech giants are hampered by the escalating battles, claims Viktor Mayer-Schonberger who is professor of governance for the internet in Oxford University.
However, he warns to be aware that the US is engaged in “the last war” as advances in artificial intelligence have put major platforms in the dust. There are no signs that these suits will be addressing concerns – like control of data that could play significant role in determining the key future players.
“It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it,” the author states, referring to anti-monopoly litigation. “[But] we should not hope that this will solve the problems of platform power.”
Anti-monopoly activist Stacy Mitchell, co-executive director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, claims that the courts are slow to make changes despite growing public concern regarding big business as well as criticism of the way they’ve decided contests over competition. However, she believes the tide is changing.
“I’ve been studying anti-trust issues for more than 15 years and I can’t overstate how much things have changed,” she says.
“I actually think we’re going to win this,” she declares. However, she acknowledges: “I can’t tell you how long it’s going to take.”