I see today in the Guardian that “The US government and a coalition of 48 states and districts have filed parallel lawsuits against Facebook in a major antitrust offensive that accused the social media behemoth of anticompetitive behavior and could ultimately force its breakup.”
In 2017 I posted “It’s time to exert governance over the the Global Tech Leaders!” In this post I discussed how 20 years ago I and my research colleagues identified the problem with “platform companies” and the likelihood of market domination. In 2017 I said, “All enterprises require some form of governance, internal and external. In the past external governance of corporations has been about ownership, assets and financial probity. More recently there has been some moves to implement more qualitative forms of governance to require corporations to report on issues such as climate change and social responsibility. Clearly, we now need strong governance over the technology companies and their customers use of the platform. I am speaking specifically about Facebook, Twitter and Google as priorities, but I fully anticipate the requirement will be much broader“
Frankly splitting Facebook is insufficient. Particularly if the split just separates out WhatsApp and Instagram. Facebook will continue to dominate the market.
In 2017 I proposed some simple remedies as follows:
a. Establish limits over individuals’ or enterprises’ use of the social platforms. Require named tech companies to make an account charge of $1 per month for every follower/friend over say 1000.
b. Require platforms to highlight paid adverts and accounts to other users.
c. Require named platforms to provide open standards for interaction between social platforms to reduce monopoly behaviors.
d. Require user ownership of personal data and rights to opt in or out of profiling based messaging and advertising.
e. Require message privacy to be subject to external governance by approved security services.
f. Recommend country level taxation systems that claw back excess profits supplementary to corporate tax regimes.
3. Charter the UN governance board to establish communications with country level governance boards and facilitate coherent implementation of policies at global and country level.
The most important remedy is point c. – to open up not just Facebook, but all social media platforms, to enforce open standards that allow standard approaches to platform interaction. This one remedy will encourage and enable agile competitors to enter the market and be successful by providing both extension and superior capabilities to the core platform(s).
Let’s remember how legal challenges take forever and ultimately fail to achieve the desired objective. Consider United States v. Microsoft Corp – and how the American antitrust law case in which the U.S. government accused Microsoft of illegally maintaining its monopoly position in the PC market primarily through the legal and technical restrictions it put on the abilities of PC manufacturers (OEMs) and users to uninstall Internet Explorer and use other programs such as Netscape and Java. In the end, the DOJ reached an agreement with Microsoft to settle the case. The proposed settlement required Microsoft to share its application programming interfaces with third-party companies and appoint a panel of three people who would have full access to Microsoft’s systems, records, and source code for five years in order to ensure compliance. The states regarded the outcome as just a slap on the wrist.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it! George Santayana-1905.