IS BREAKING UP BIG TECH POSSIBLE?

IS BREAKING UP BIG TECH POSSIBLE?

Elizabeth Warren is ready to take on Silicon Valley. The Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, a 2020 presidential contender, says companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook are so dominant that they hurt small businesses and stifle innovation. Her solution: break them up with some old-fashioned trust-busting. Given the growing backlash against Silicon Valley, her idea is likely to get a lot of attention. But there's plenty to unpack here, so let's take it one question at a time.

What is the argument for doing this?


For Warren and other Silicon Valley critics, it's simple: Big Tech has become too big. Amazon, Google, and Facebook revolutionized how we communicate and buy stuff, yes. But they now dominate their respective markets for e-commerce and online ads, which gives them too much power, not only over ordinary users (just try to go a week without using Google!), but also companies that rely on their platforms to reach customers. What's more, big tech companies often acquire challengers in order to neutralize them and hoover up their valuable data. All of this means that the biggest Silicon Valley companies are no longer the disruptive innovators they once were – instead, they're incumbents who stifle competition.

How would Warren's plan work?

Warren wants two things. First, a new law to split up many of the functions that tech companies currently house under one roof. So, for example, barring Amazon from selling its own goods on its own platforms. Second, she wants regulators to unwind historical mergers and acquisitions that, in her view, violate existing anti-trust rules. Facebook's 2012 acquisition of competitor Instagram is one example of a deal Warren thinks was anti-competitive. Others include Amazon's acquisition of the organic grocer Whole Foods and Google's acquisition of the Israeli mapping software company Waze.

What are the arguments against breaking up Big Tech?

The industry's defenders say that tech companies help to facilitate innovation for everyone. Consumers benefit when Google serves tailored ads based on search results, while companies benefit when Amazon can use its insight into what customers want in order to connect them with the right sellers at good prices. What's more, without evidence that these companies use their market power to jack up prices, it's hard to prove there's a real antitrust problem. And while data is now a highly monetizable commodity, there isn't a good measure of how much market share in data constitutes a "monopoly." Focusing on breaking up Big Tech, some critics say, is a distraction from more pressing issues, like protecting online privacy.

What are other countries doing?

Europe leads the world on regulating big tech. The EU has already passed some of the world's toughest privacy rules and recently adopted a new law to curb conflicts of interest by big internet platforms. But Warren's call to break up Big Tech goes beyond even what Brussels bureaucrats envision. European anti-trust supremo Margrethe Vestager has recently backed away from the idea of breaking up tech companies, saying it should only be a "last resort" and pointing to more surgical enforcement of anti-trust rules as the way forward.

What happens now?

Warren, to put it mildly, faces an uphill struggle to make her plan a reality. Calls to break up Silicon Valley giants would likely be fiercely opposed by business-friendly Republicans in Congress – and probably some Democrats who are cozy with the tech sector , or others who just think her policies would be bad for innovation. But even if Warren's plan fails to break through, she has already injected radical new thinking about tech sector regulation into the 2020 contest. That shows how much the political winds have shifted against Silicon Valley in a few short years.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

More Show less

Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

More Show less

In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

More Show less

When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

More Show less

YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

More Show less

Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal