Break Up the Tech Giants? No, Just Level the Field

Legacy rules.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

People in the U.S., not just in the European Union, are finally getting worried about tech sector leaders' market dominance and the political power it confers. Unfortunately, the solutions gaining traction are the kind of anti-monopoly regulations that address the symptoms of the problem, not its root cause.

Some 45 percent of American adults get news from Facebook. Google's search market share in the U.S. approaches 86 percent. About 43 percent of all online retail sales in the U.S. last year went through Amazon. So no wonder people get concerned when Facebook reports that, during the U.S. presidential campaign, hundreds of fake accounts, possibly operated from Russia, bought and ran about $100,000 worth of political ads from the social media company. It's no surprise that there's an outcry about Google's treatment of free speech inside the company and, likely, in a think tank the company funds. It's natural that Amazon's Whole Foods acquisition raises alarms.

How can these benign, universally loved innovators be stopped from turning into evil, soulless corporate behemoths? Break up companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, some say, or at least stop them from buying up companies that allow them to consolidate their dominance. Or perhaps recognize them as utilities — the approach advocated by Barry Lynn, head of the Open Markets program cut loose by the New America think tank after Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt complained about Lynn's work. The catch-all name for all the proposals, popularized by George Mason University law professor Joshua Wright, is "hipster antitrust."