Crime Shouldn’t Pay: Why Big Tech Executives Should Face Jail

Crime Shouldn’t Pay: Why Big Tech Executives Should Face Jail. By Matt Stoller.

This past Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with 10 other state AGs, accused Google of monopolizing online advertising, arguing it used coercive tactics to seize control of the plumbing that underpins all ad-financed internet content, and illegally divided up the online ad market with Facebook.

The next day, Colorado’s Phil Weiser and Nebraska’s Doug Peterson led 38 states in accusing Google of manipulating its search results to disfavor specialized competitors like Yelp, as well as blocking competitors who seek to enter new search markets like those of voice assistants or internet-enabled cars.

The suits themselves are stunning.

While the [Texas] complaint alleges that Google has engaged in monopolization, it also alleges a different violation, that Facebook and Google are in a cartel to violate user privacy and fix prices in advertising markets. …

The Sherman Act has two parts. Section Two prohibits monopolization, but monopolization cases are very hard to bring and quite expensive, and require elaborate models. Section One prohibits cartels and price-fixing as conspiracies. Cartel cases are much easier — just show an agreement to collaborate on fixing prices, and you’re done. In fact cartels are so much easier to prosecute that price-fixing is the only area that enforcers actually bring criminal charges. And worrisome for Google, Texas is alleging cartel behavior. …

The demanded remedies for these civil violations are tough. Enforcers are asking for injunctive relief to stop the bad behavior, break-ups of these companies to end the structural conflicts, as well as monetary damages and civil fines. These few months represent perhaps the toughest spate of antitrust action since the post-World War II era, when Harry Truman restarted antitrust cases after their suspension during the war.

Any justice will be slow:

Judge Amit Mehta, who is hearing the case filed in October, said that the DOJ and Google will likely go to trial in late 2023. … Both sides must gather documents, do research, file and debate procedural motions, interview executives and stakeholders, and build complex economic models for the trial. … The trial itself could stretch out, with a remedy phase, and then there will be appeals. When all is said and done, it could be five years before there’s a remedy, or even longer. …

Looting the country, and political corruption:

One problem with such a lengthy period is that the longer monopolistic behavior goes on, the more damage, in this case to publishers whose ad revenue is being stolen, and small and medium size businesses whose property is being appropriated. …

What’s more frightening is the political corruption that Google and Facebook are enabling. Thousands of newspapers have fallen apart over the past ten years, and over the next three, thousands more will collapse. … The end state is frightening. Indeed, here’s what the Texas complaint alleges is Google’s long-term goal.

Google’s current dominance is merely a preview of its future plans. Google has an appetite for total dominance, and its latest ambition is to transform the free and open architecture of the internet. Google’s plan is to create a walled garden around the internet in which it controls websites and mobile applications. Google calls its emerging venture the [redacted], a world in which publisher content is operated by Google

Google’s documented plan is to capture online publishers on the open internet and transform them into content creators generating revenue for Google on a completely closed platform — like YouTube content creators.

Google has total power over YouTube creators, the ability to demonetize them, to censor them, promote them or not. And that’s Google’s goal for all speakers and businesses online, to turn us all into serfs working — and speaking — at Google’s pleasure. It’s hard to argue that waiting five years for a remedy is sufficient to address this incredible threat to our wallets and more importantly our liberties. …

Way worse than Microsoft in the 1990s:

Bill Gates, as hard as it is to believe, was more law-abiding than Zuckerberg and Pichai, because the rule of law was much stronger decades ago. … We are in an era of elite lawlessness, so the normal effects of antitrust may not work until powerful leaders start to be afraid of getting caught breaking the law. …

The value of handcuffs:

What Facebook and Google are doing is crime, and it needs to be treated as such. Right now, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai believe that they have to fight a civil case, which means spending money on lawyers and being deposed by government officials. But they will keep their wealth, and of course, their freedom, because they are personally not at risk, so scheming to dominate more markets elsewhere is a perfectly reasonable activity to pursue even while their companies are on trial. Violating the law by taking someone else’s livelihood risks, at worst, a parking ticket.

But if these men were facing the prospect of personal criminal liability, then the stakes would suddenly shift. During the trial, they would become far more cautious and unwilling to engage in potentially predatory actions, for fear of losing their wealth and freedom, much as they have appropriated that of others.

Google is evil. Don’t use them. We’ve been using DuckDuckGo for nearly all our searches for the last few years.