Massive Accusations in the House Report on Big Tech

The 16-month House investigation into tech largest companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — is officially over. Released last week, the House Judiciary Committee’s report accuses the four companies of abusing their power and cites multiple problems in the way each of the four companies operate.

“The report, which was released on Tuesday and concludes a 16-month investigation into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, recommended breaking up the companies and passing the most sweeping reforms to antitrust laws in decades,” notes this article in the New York Times.

Hobbling competition, harvesting data without consumer knowledge, excessive profit-taking and commissions, even collusion are among the charges leveled in the 449-page report. (If you have the stamina, you can read the full report here.)

“In a 449-page report that was presented by the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic leadership, lawmakers said the four companies had turned from ’scrappy’ start-ups into ‘the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons,’” write Cecilia Kang and David McCabe in another New York Times piece. “The lawmakers said the companies had abused their dominant positions, setting and often dictating prices and rules for commerce, search, advertising, social networking and publishing.”

“To amend the inequities,” the article continues, “the lawmakers recommended restoring competition by effectively breaking up the companies, emboldening the agencies that police market concentration and throwing up hurdles for the companies to acquire start-ups. They also proposed reforming antitrust laws, in the biggest potential shift since the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act of 1976 created stronger reviews of big mergers.”

Much of the report has bi-partisan support when it comes to the findings of anti-trust and monopolistic activities, but differ (no surprise there) on how to resolve it. Some favor enforcement of existing laws, while others call for restructuring the companies and their business models … (Ma Bell, anyone?). And there’s the indisputable fact that our present-day economy is built on a platform of ever-innovating tech … innovation that is made possible in part by the kind of resources these tech giants can throw around.

Yet personal data privacy has become laughable, entire niche industries have sprung up around learning how to gain a footing on Amazon, and proprietary apps are hindering consumer choice in many verticals.

Let’s set the political and business ramifications aside for the moment, and look at this from the point of view of a brand or advertiser trying to market in the digital sphere. Do we really believe continuing to feed the beast, over which we have clearly lost control long ago, is the right way to spend our precious marketing dollars?

In light of the trillion-plus dollar industry we are talking about, can our three or four or five-figure marketing budget even hope to make a dent? Or would that money be better spent building a first-party data machine to speak directly to your audience … without the gatekeeper?

Perhaps new anti-trust measures are needed; I’ll leave that for the legal minds to hash out. But clearly, a new marketing strategy is in order to be more than a tiny cog in the massive machine.