Lewis Morris / March 19, 2019

Warren: Who’s Up for Trust-Busting Big Tech?

After a dust-up with Facebook, the Democrat floats getting the government more involved.

It’s that time of the election cycle when candidates send out policy ideas as trial balloons, seeing what resonates with voters. In an increasingly crowded field of rivals, Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts, has found an idea that just might resonate.

Warren recently announced a proposal to break up Big Tech, namely Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple, into smaller parts, with a regulatory regime to oversee what’s left. Warren says this will restore competition in the tech sector and protect the future of the Internet.

Warren’s campaign got an inadvertent boost from Facebook last week, when the tech giant removed Warren’s anti-tech ads from its site. She cried foul, going to Twitter with this: “Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power,” she tweeted Monday. “Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor.”

Facebook came back with the explanation that her ads were pulled because they violated Facebook’s policy regarding uses of its logo. Warren campaign ads that did not include the Facebook logo were not pulled. The altered logo ads were soon restored.

It allowed Warren a moment to gloat over Facebook proving her point, and to strike a chord with voters.

The current political climate is not in Big Tech’s favor. And it’s never hard for a populist like Warren to stir up the masses into thinking they are being cheated by Big [fill in your villain here] — Oil, Pharma, etc.

In this environment, Warren is going after low-hanging fruit, but her proposal to respond to Big Tech has the situation all wrong.

Warren uses the Microsoft anti-trust case of 20 years ago as an example of positive government intervention, from which grew Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google. To Warren this is proof “that highlights why the government must break up monopolies and promote competitive markets.”

On the contrary, the creation and rise of these tech titans in that span of time is a testament to how innovative ideas change the marketplace, creating new demand and better products.

Warren’s plan is to break up these companies like with Microsoft. It’s not clear what this will accomplish. Facebook is nothing like Microsoft. Splitting it into separate networks would turn it into something else entirely, and breaking off Instagram and WhatsApp wouldn’t have any discernible impact because they’re all free services.

Warren also thinks that Amazon, Google, and Apple are engaging in vertically integrated monopolies by using their services to compete unfairly against competitors on their platforms. Examples of this include Google pushing competitors further down its search results, or Apple including its apps on its App Store.

“It’s got to be one or the other,” said Warren. “Either they run the platform or they play in the store. They don’t get to do both at the same time.”

Warren sounds as if she wants Apple to be orderly and in one space so she can understand it better. The hundreds of millions of consumers that have made Apple one of the biggest companies in the world don’t have any trouble figuring out what apps they want for their iPhone. They are not compelled to run Apple apps exclusively.

It’s in Big Tech’s best interests to remain open to innovation and new companies with fresh ideas. In the spirit of market competition, sometimes these companies are gobbled up. But this drives innovation, which leads to better products and higher consumer demand.

There are viable concerns over censorship on social media, but in some ways, Warren’s plan looks like a solution in search of a problem. The tech sector is thriving, and there is no shortage of innovative projects taking shape. There are issues to be addressed with social media, but calling the government in to break up companies might be the worst possible “solution.”

The problems we have with social media require behavioral changes. People cannot be slaves to their devices, and we need to get back to more human contact with others. Privacy issues are in consumer hands in much the same way. On social media, you are the product. Feel free to do whatever you like, but always remember that you leave behind a digital footprint everywhere you go. Act accordingly.

Even in Warren’s own example, it’s hard to make out what the problem was. She cites Facebook for censoring social media, but all she had to do was turn to Twitter to get her message out. And Google lists more links to the story then you’ll ever care to read. To claim she was silenced on Facebook was clearly not the case. If anything, Warren strong-armed Facebook. The company violated its own policy by putting her ads back up. Imagine any Republican being able to pull that off.

Warren’s attack on Big Tech is like every Democrat idea that has come before it this cycle. It presumes a problem where none (or a greatly overstated one) exists, and then creates a far-reaching, often outdated, means by which to “fix” the problem. This invariably includes increased government involvement and inevitably leads to reduced consumer benefit.

There will be more power grabs disguised as social solutions in the months to come. Voters must resist the temptation to buy into anything that frames larger government as a solution to our problems.

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