After decades of illegally suppressing competition at the expense of consumers and small businesses, the four “big tech” giants – Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple – are finally facing their antitrust retaliation in Washington.
A bipartisan coalition has formed in Congress in support of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICO), which would ban big tech companies from unfairly boosting their products over the competition.
The prospect of passing this widely publicized bill has prompted Big Tech to engage in one of the most desperate lobbying efforts in recent history. Big Tech’s “see-what-sticks” antitrust smear campaign included everything from making false claims, to moderating content, to urging advisors, to spreading the message (as Amazon was caught doing) that AICO “communities of Color will harm”.
Not surprisingly, then, Big Tech has pulled the oldest trick in the book of American politics: generating concern over perceived “national security” risks. For the past year, Big Tech has unashamedly promoted the premise that AICO and the accompanying Open App Markets Act (OAMA) would compromise American security.
That’s right: Big Tech wants you to believe that a bill designed to prevent Google from exploiting its search engine dominance against competitors poses a threat to America’s national defense.
As patently absurd as this premise is, what exactly would the “national security” imply of preventing Amazon from giving preferential treatment to its own products in the marketplace? – it’s anything but a shot in the blue.
Indeed, Big Tech has pulled out the big guns to express fabricated “national security” concerns.
“In a way, Big Tech can’t really be blamed for wrapping itself in the flag to evade accountability: the tech titans are desperate…”
The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a leading big tech lobbying group, is a leader in funding flawed analysis of antitrust law’s impact on national security. In collaboration with the law firm King & Spalding (whose clients include Google), the CCIA published its own paper on “identif[y] national security risks,” allegedly emanating from antitrust laws.
Predictably, the “concerns” they identified were abstract in nature, such as the possibility of “undermining US technology leadership.” The CCIA also feigned concern that antitrust laws would weaken “efforts to counter foreign influence and misinformation,” a particularly amusing argument since it counts Facebook as a member.
Big Tech has also worked hard to solicit support from retired national security forces to feign credibility. A group of 12 former national security officials who aligned themselves with the tech lobby were quickly exposed as having professional ties to Big Tech. The CCIA went so far as to repackage an old out-of-context video of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to portray her as an opponent of antitrust laws. After Protocol — a website that covers technology deals and politics — determined that the video was old “and wasn’t even about antitrust reform,” Rice officials asked the CCIA to remove it.
In a way, Big Tech can’t really be blamed for wrapping itself in the flag to evade accountability. The tech titans are desperate, and if there’s one constant in 21st-century American politics, it’s that lying about national security can do a hell of a lot for a shaky agenda.
But if everyone from the conservatives at the Heritage Foundation to the progressives of the American Economic Liberties Project (AELP) have called Big Tech’s cynical national security plan for what it is, it’s high time the media called it no longer to be taken seriously.
It is worth noting that many former national security officials have supported the antitrust effort, notably a former Supreme Allied Europe Commander of NATO, a retired general Wesley Clark.
Tom Ridge and Janet Napolitano – who headed the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush and Barack Obama respectively – have also advocated curbing big tech’s monopoly power. In a joint letter, they noted that the self-serving behavior of companies like Apple “runs directly counter to improving the security of apps in their marketplaces.”
Unfortunately, big tech can get away with spreading half-baked talking points about “national security” for one reason only: the China factor.
The Competitiveness Coalition, a newly formed big-tech front group led by former Republican Senator Scott Brown, has spent large sums on a crude publicity campaign attacking antitrust reform as pro-China.
Big Tech’s shameless China baiting seems particularly offensive for a number of reasons. For one, big tech giants have long demonstrated their willingness to accommodate Beijing in hopes of gaining a larger market share in China. Fortunately, Apple has participated in the censorship of China’s App Store to stay operational in the country, with around 55,000 apps reportedly disappearing from 2017 to 2021 The New York Times. As for Google, it was only in 2018 that the company was working on a censored search engine project for the Chinese market.
As noted by The Washington Post in 2020: “Apple is heavily dependent on Chinese manufacturing, and human rights reports have identified instances of alleged Uyghur forced labor being used in Apple’s supply chain.” (Similar reports have surfaced regarding Amazon.)
Given Big Tech’s willingness to support the Chinese government’s crackdown on dissent, it’s no surprise that leading Chinese human rights organizations like the Uyghur Human Rights Project have endorsed the Open App Markets Act.
But most importantly, the argument that China would benefit from a US crackdown on Big Tech is flawed because it is based on a flawed underlying premise: the notion that monopoly power is good for innovation and that containing corporate giants is good destroy America’s competitive advantage.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary, the government helps stifle innovation when it lets big tech giants gobble up promising small companies to conquer the market. Big Tech is notorious for its “copy-acquire-kill” strategy, a model that prevents startups in critical areas like artificial intelligence from thriving.
As legal scholar Ganesh Sitaraman observed in 2020, “more competition is desirable, not less,” for America to maintain its global innovation lead, meaning that “[b]Breaking up and regulating big tech will therefore enhance innovation, not reduce it.”
In some ways, the “Cold War II” rhetoric against antitrust is not unlike the lies propounded by monopolists during the height of US-Soviet tensions. Faced with a dissolution in the 1980s, AT&T lobbyists tried to get the Reagan administration to bail them out, arguing that maintaining the company’s monopoly on communications systems would keep Americans safe.
Fortunately, in January 1982, the Bell System was ordered to be dismantled. A quick look at how the story unfolded in the years that followed gives little credence to the notion that the AT&T breakup was a lifeline for America’s top adversaries.
With time running out until the August recess, it’s crucial that Senate leaders get antitrust legislation to a vote.
Big tech isn’t concerned that antitrust reform will hurt “national security”: They fear it will rein in their monopolistic business model — and they’re absolutely right.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/dont-buy-big-techs-bs-that-regulating-them-is-a-threat-to-national-security?source=articles&via=rss Don’t buy Big Tech’s BS that their regulation poses a threat to national security