Big tech’s antitrust battles

More evidence of the tech sector taking antitrust law seriously. Amazon is trying to shackle a newly-appointed member of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) arguing she is biased against the company and will never give it a fair hearing.

The online retailer says Lina Kahn, who was appointed chair by US President Joe Biden just last month, is prejudiced against them and has forged her career ‘in large measure by pronouncing Amazon liable for violating the antitrust laws’. The ecommerce giant wants Ms Kahn to step aside from any investigations in which it is involved.

Given the possibility of a future examination of Amazon’s multi-billion-dollar acquisition of MGM Studios, it is no great surprise the company is taking anti-trust seriously. However, a report in the FT suggests Amazon’s efforts might well be in vain. The FTC tells the paper it has already examined Ms Kahn’s impartiality and sees no issue with her ability to oversee any anti-trust case.

Fellow tech giant Facebook is also slugging it out over antitrust policy. The social media behemoth has fought off attempts by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and an alliance of 48 State Attorney Generals to pare back its hold over the US markets; a decision that caused the social media platform’s share price to rocket past USD 1trn for the first time.

A district judge said there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Facebook was crushing competitors and monopolising the market. However, before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg starts celebrating too heartily, the case remains open and there is the chance for claimants to refile. Had the case been successful, it might have forced Facebook to siphon off its popular picture sharing app Instagram as well as messaging site WhatsApp.

The huge increase in Facebook’s share price is indicative of the impact that antitrust litigation will have on the tech sector, and somewhat analogous to what we see with platform employers. Whereas the share prices of companies like Uber and Lyft rise and fall depending on their success or failure in legal cases relating to employment status, it looks like Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet and others like them will find their market value is at the mercy of rulings relating to competition policy. Investors will need to keep a close eye on how companies respond to antitrust challenges and assess the risk accordingly.

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