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How EU Amazon Antitrust Probe Spotlights Amazon as an Unlevel Playing Field

Consider the ways that the EU’s announced antitrust probe of Amazon is a game changer in spotlighting how Amazon Marketplace’s conflicted-expanse is a de facto unlevel playing field.

First, the ongoing probe will spotlight that Jeff Bezos, Amazon, investors, and U.S. antitrust authorities can no longer dismiss that Amazon faces antitrust risk.

The EU’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager has launched a preliminary, expert, bulls-eye antitrust probe at by far the most antitrust-vulnerable part of Amazon’s online market-monopsonization model – i.e. the anticompetitive Amazon Marketplace structure where Amazon first commands unchecked, most of its competitors’ most sensitive business confidential information/data and metadata; and second non-transparently and unchecked, determines their competitors’ rank and costs to commercially access Amazon’s monopsonized online consumer demand.

Simply the EU is investigating whether Google’s unchecked dual role as an economy-wide merchant and platform make it an inherently anticompetitive biased-broker?

The Unlevel Playing Field of Asymmetric Competition Expectations

A core question for the FTC to answer in its hearings on “Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century,” is what are the FTC’s underlying competition expectations?

Why have telecom, cable, and wireless network communications’ convergence with information technology turned out to be pro-competitive, but the Internet platforms’ reverse convergence of information technology with communications networks turned out to be anti-competitive, i.e. naturally winner-take-all?

Asymmetric governmental competitive expectations are why.

Congress’ stated purpose in passing the 1996 Telecommunications Act was “to promote competition and reduce regulation…” [bold added] and Congress’ antitrust savings clause clearly did not change the applicability of antitrust laws to communications networks.

In stark contrast, as an unregulated information service, information technology companies’ networks operated outside of the FCC’s pro-competition mandate, despite the well-known monopolistic behavior of consumer/business software provider Microsoft at that time.

Google Facebook & Amazon’s Anticompetitive Nontransparent Exchange of Ideas

There can’t be a “free exchange of ideas” without transparent competition for the exchange of ideas.

This is a timely point for three reasons.

First, the DOJ announced: “The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies [Google Facebook Twitter] may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms." [Bold added.] This “competition” concern ultimately falls in the lap of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division and State Attorneys General.

What’s the FTC Hearing before their Hearings on the Unlevel Playing Field?

Evidently antitrust non-enforcement can have big consequences.

It can cause big un-ignorable problems that get the attention of the President, all of Congress, and both political parties. That rare feat of collective attention-grabbing can point them collectively in the same rough direction – back to antitrust authorities that could have, or should have, prevented many of the messy Internet platform unaccountability problems that they collectively are wrestling with resolving now.   

Before the FTC has its first retrospective review hearing on its own institutional performance this fall, it has been getting an implicit earful from its governmental superiors that it actions and inactions have apparently created broad and serious negative consequences for competition.

What Most Stunts FTC Antitrust and Consumer Protection Law and Enforcement?

As the FTC prepares for their public hearings on “competition and consumer protection in the 21st century” this fall, it would be reasonable and instructive for the FTC to seek to better understand the root cause of the need for these once-in-a-generation FTC hearings and to confront some of the most evident serious effects of this root cause problem.

First this analysis asks and answers “what most stunts the FTC’s antitrust and consumer protection law enforcement mission?

Second it asks a dozen of the most important questions the FTC should be asking to zero in on what problems are evidently happening with competition and consumer protection in the marketplace that the FTC’s mission and efforts evidently have been unable to deter, address or resolve since the Pitofsky hearings in 1995.

The Unfair and Deceptive Online-Offline Playing Field – FTC Hearing Filing

Submission for: U.S. FTC  Fall 2018 Hearings on “Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century” Topic #2: “Competition and Consumer Protection in Communication, Information, and Media Technology Networks” FTC Project # P181201 (PDF of this filing is here.)

The Unfair and Deceptive Online-Offline Playing Field of Divergent U.S. Competition and Consumer Protection Policy
Internet policy* has been the determinative dynamic of U.S. competition and consumer protection in the 21
st
Century. Government exemptions/immunities evidently heavily favor regulatory arbitrage over free market competition, and drive the evident divergent reality where most of U.S. competition and consumer protection problems occur online not offline.

Google-Android’s Deceptive Antitrust Defenses Presage a US v. Alphabet Suit

The likely probability of an eventual U.S. v. Alphabet Sherman monopolization case improved further now that we know how weak Alphabet-Google’s likely primary U.S. antitrust defense of Android is.

This means not only is a potential U.S. v. Alphabet antitrust case stronger than the seminal successful and upheld U.S. v. Microsoft precedent, but Google’s relative antitrust defense is much weaker too.

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai’s public Android antitrust defense has fatal flaws.

First, Google-Android claims Apple iOS is a direct competitor when factually in an antitrust context it is not.

Why a US v. Google-Android Antitrust Case Is Stronger than US v. Microsoft

SUMMARY

The impending EU-Google-Android abuse of dominance conviction and expected record fine and substantial behavioral prohibitions, begs the question of how U.S. antitrust enforcers will eventually act on the outcome of their own Google-Android investigation?  

The Sea Change Significance of Simons-FTC Privacy and Antitrust Hearings

Much bigger change is afoot at the FTC than many may appreciate. An awakened and reinvigorated Simons-FTC lies ahead as do eventual new FTC calls for 21st century privacy and data protection legislation. Don’t be fooled by the glacial pace of the 2017-18 FTC appointment/confirmation process for a near clean slate of FTC leadership.

We now have strong official directional evidence from FTC Chairman Simons that the next two-and-a-half years are going to be very different from the last five years, 2013-17.

Buying WhatsApp Tipped Facebook to Monopoly; Why Didn’t FTC Probe Purchase?

Anyone concerned with the anticompetitive state of digital advertising, and how to fix it, should focus like a laser on the circumstances surrounding the 2014 FTC’s pass on formally investigating if the Facebook-WhatsApp acquisition would “substantially lessen competition” under the Clayton Antitrust Act.

That obvious FTC mistake in hindsight, triggered a winner-take-all domino effect that not only tipped Facebook to a social advertising monopoly, but also tipped the overall digital advertising market to the anticompetitive digital advertising cartel that evidently predominates today.

Some brief context is helpful here. This big 2014 FTC mistake was the fourth of a pattern of big anticompetitive FTC mistakes concerning the digital advertising marketplace over the last decade.  

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