Big Tech & Antitrust Suits

Antitrust inquiries and lawsuits are increasingly targetting big tech companies. Recently, four French online advertising companies and publishers filed an antitrust complaint against Apple with France’s competition authority over iPhone’s new privacy features. The four advertising lobbies and associations, namely IAB France, MMAF, SRI and UDECAM, argued that Apple is using “privacy arguments to abuse their market power.”

Apple’s new operating software iOS 14 will require apps to get opt-in permission from users to collect their advertising identifier, a number that allows advertisers to send targeted ads, instead of an opt-out system. It has been argued that under Apple’s new privacy configuration, few users will agree to be tracked, which makes it harder for advertising companies to sell personalized ads. On the other hand, Apple can hold itself to a lower standard and send targeted ads to iOS users without asking them for prior consent and potentially boost its profits.

Moreover, the United States Department of Justice brought an action against Google on October 20, 2020, for antitrust violations. Google is said to be facing the most significant antitrust case in a generation since the unprecedented case against Microsoft commenced in 1998. In this particular context, antitrust violations refer to the company’s current dominance in online search and advertising, which inhibits healthy and fair competition, leaving consumers vulnerable to predatory business practices in various ways.

Currently, Google controls about 90% of global web searches. A recent report from a House Judiciary Subcommittee concluded that Google has monopoly power in the market for search. One of the reasons behind the suit was that Google is paying phone manufacturers to ensure Google is the default search engine on browsers. Google’s search application is preloaded and cannot be deleted on mobile phones with Android operating systems. Responding to exclusionary practices and market dominance, Google tweeted “…People use Google because they choose to ­­— not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”

This pre-election lawsuit against Google is said to be setting the stage for global action on tech giants for antitrust issues. In Canada, there have not been any major antitrust investigations against tech companies so far. However, experts claim that it is only a matter of time before Canada joins the US and the EU in antitrust investigations. For instance, recently, Canadian publishers complained about big tech giants such as Google and Facebook extracting news without offering fair compensation, which threatens Canada’s publishing market’s survival. Publishers urged Ottawa to force the tech companies to pay for news content and enforce effective compliance urgently. Canadian Heritage Minister signalled his intent to focus on this issue and address the imbalance between the Canadian news organizations and tech giants.

Though Canadian regulators have generally been more moderate than their American or European counterparts, the Canadian Competition Bureau is now closely monitoring tech giants for anti-competitive behaviour. The Canadian approach to competition violations is providing warnings and recommendations rather than taking the companies to court. However, this approach has not always worked so well in terms of ensuring efficient compliance.

Moreover, some people claim that big tech should not be disturbed for all the good they provide for society. Even in the 90s and 00s, challenging Microsoft for violating antitrust laws was not a popular and widely supported decision. Microsoft was a well-liked company, and Bill Gates was widely held as a “visionary genius,” and it was argued that enforcing the antitrust laws against Microsoft would impede innovation and economic growth. However, innovation still surged in the American technology markets even after the action against Microsoft. Accordingly, demanding fairer rules and compliance surrounding competition from tech-giants should be a priority for Canadians.

Written by Elif Babaoglu. Elif is a contributing IPilogue editor and an avid privacy and tech-law enthusiast with a particular focus on artificial intelligence.



One Comment
  1. I wonder if the issues big data creates is really about due to lack of competition or if it is more about privacy. As was written, people have alternatives and the article even mentions multiple companies that compete. It seems to me, therefore, big data companies have legitimate competition.
    That said, as the data can be collected by multiple entities, it doesn’t seem to me to be about whether only one company has the information. Rather the malice seems to be about whether any company has so much information and the influence that information affords the company. The difficulty is the power of data does not seem to linearly correlate to the amount of data possessed. Instead it seems to be that a critical mass is required for it to be effective and the threshold for this effect is substantial. To cap the size or force such institutions to split as the article implies, could not just diminish the value of the data, it could eliminate it. I argue that this is beyond the purpose of anti-competition law.
    Even if it were within the realm, the destruction of big data would take with it the often otherwise free benefits that providing data secures. This would strip those who have been empowered by products like Facetime and Gmail of these services. While I do not like the control big data exercises, I question whether the government busting up these entities is worth this cost.

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