Everything revolves around a single concept: The price we consumers pay to internet giants to use their services. This price cannot be measured by the money we spend, but it can be measured with data and attention. By providing information about ourselves and dedicating time to Facebook (as well as its acquisitions WhatsApp and Instagram), Google (which includes YouTube), Amazon and so on, we pay for their features being—only apparently—available for free. Because of the intangible nature of the price, the world’s antitrust authorities have struggled to take action against these developing monopolies.
New (Old) Paths
However, some headway is being made now, as reported by The Financial Times a few days ago. We are witnessing a return to the origins of antitrust policies. That is to say, they are not only based on prices, but also on setting objective limits to competition. This risks the result of the “tech titans,” as The Economist labels them, having to pay a steep price. There may even be a break-up, i.e., a split into several parts of the companies that have become an indisputable monopoly. The subject was raised explicitly by Elizabeth Warren, the American Democrat who is running for her party's presidential nomination. Warren does not have the best chance to win, and you might say that she holds a minority view. Nevertheless, it cannot be disputed that, for the first time since the previous century, Congress has launched an investigation into the industry. Some recall that the same happened in the 90s with an antitrust inquiry into Microsoft. Perhaps, had that not occurred, Google and Facebook might never have been born. Still, the path may start becoming very narrow for today’s monopolistic companies, which may not be bad news for the market and for consumers.