Earlier this month, President Joe Biden wrote a rare op-ed in The Wall Street Journal urging bipartisan cooperation to hold Big Tech accountable. More than an aspirational plea for bipartisan unity, the article is also a direct challenge to Republican leadership to “put-up-or-shut-up” on taking Big Tech to task.
While Republicans feign outrage about the tech giants on the campaign trail, the likes of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Jim Jordan continue to drag their heels on meaningful antitrust reform. Though public discourse around Big Tech often centers on the issues of misinformation or alleged “censorship”, holding the tech giants (among the largest and widest-reaching enterprises in human history) accountable means taking on their market power.
By launching its long-awaited antitrust suit against Google, the Biden administration isn’t just taking the initiative to protect consumers from corporate abuses. Indeed, the Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit is a welcome sign that the White House—and by extension the Democratic Party—refuses to cede the popular cause of reining in Big Tech to the GOP.
The antitrust lawsuit against Google filed on Tuesday is the second filed by the DOJ since 2020. While the ongoing suit filed over two years ago centers on Google’s unlawful dominance in the search engine market, the 2023 suit challenges Google’s monopoly in the advertising technology (adtech) sector. The United States has had federal laws against illegal monopolies since 1890, and the reinvigoration of antitrust under Biden is a welcome development after decades of hands-off enforcement.
Jonathan Kanter, head of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, stated that Google has illegally built an advertising monopoly through “driving out rivals, diminishing competition, [and] inflating advertising costs.” In doing so, Kanter notes that this has meant more than just diminished publisher revenue and a decrease in viable competitors to Google: It’s also resulted in “harming the exchange of information and ideas in the public sphere.”
In other words, the harms of monopoly power are not abstract concerns. On the contrary, when the government gives a free pass to companies that monopolize markets in violation of federal antitrust law, they’re also enabling them to commit harm with impunity.
At a glance, antitrust may not be as “sexy” a tech policy cause as, say, protecting online privacy or stopping misinformation. But make no mistake: Unless Big Tech is cut down to size by directly challenging its monopoly abuses, the tech giants will continue to feel emboldened to harm users and markets.
And while tech policy in general may seem academic, an estimated 90 percent of Americans are online, which means that building a safe and fair digital ecosystem is of utmost importance. For this reason, it should be no surprise that surveys have consistently shown that limiting Big Tech’s monopoly power is a political winner across party lines.
Polling by American Family Voices last fall, for example, found that 75 percent of respondents want to modernize antitrust law to deal with tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. This number includes 78 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats, respectively, a rare instance of a policy that unites Americans across party lines. Polling by Morning Consult found that Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike were far more likely to support tech regulation efforts than oppose such proposals.
As such, the Biden administration’s tech antitrust efforts aren’t just good policy, but politically smart as well. Going into 2024, Biden and the Democratic Party would benefit from having concrete accomplishments on holding Big Tech accountable as they face the voters. This is especially true when one considers that Biden’s most likely Republican opponents, former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis, have made animosity towards the tech giants central to their rhetoric.
With this in mind, both the White House and Democratic congressional leadership should make passing bipartisan antitrust legislation a top priority. Despite momentum and support from lawmakers of both parties, the two major bipartisan antitrust bills ultimately failed to make it into law in the 117th Congress.
In a way, pushing to pass the bipartisan tech antitrust legislation in the new Congress would be a guaranteed win-win for the Democrats. After all, there’s only two ways it could turn out, both of which would be a point in the Democrats’ favor. If sufficient pressure leads the McCarthy-run House to pass the legislation, that will give Biden the opportunity to sign transformative, bipartisan legislation into law. And if McCarthy drags his heels, even as key members of his own party push for tech antitrust measures, that will expose his own failure of leadership on the issue.
There are few times in politics where everyone from democratic socialist independent Sen. Bernie Sanders to Republican Sen. Mike Lee can agree on something. When it comes to the DOJ’s lawsuit to take on Google’s adtech monopoly, though, it’s a clear winner across the political spectrum. The White House should pay close attention to this positive bipartisan reception and lean deeper into the cause of holding Big Tech accountable to the public.
In the meantime, the Biden administration should make sure to build up its own tech policy team. After working tirelessly to rein in monopolies over the past two years, Biden advisor Tim Wu left the White House this month. Given the DOJ’s new Google suit, the FTC’s antitrust suits against Meta, and the likelihood of a DOJ Apple antitrust case, the White House needs firm advocates of anti-monopoly policy in advisory positions.