Will We Break Up Big Tech After the 2020 Election?


Jansen Hammock, Contributor

For many Americans today, a single company can sell their textbooks, stream their favorite TV shows, and even turn out their lights. Additionally, a single company can own and operate four of the most downloaded apps of the decade. While tech companies grow and develop more, some people have started to question just how big they should be. As the 2020 Presidential Election nears, could the result of this election change the size and scope of Big Tech in America?

A key contributor to the size of Big Tech has been acquisitions of other firms. Acquisitions allow Big Tech companies like Facebook and Amazon to either “neutralize” competitors or integrate their platforms to deepen consumer ties and information. Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012, further widening their grasp of the social media market. In 2017, Amazon ventured into a new market with its purchase of Whole Foods. These acquisitions lead to bigger companies owning more of the technology market and the American economy with more consumers purchasing their products.

Breaking up Big Tech could force companies like Facebook to disband from other platforms like Instagram. However, these policies have deeper implications than simply changing ownership of these companies. The goal of antitrust policies would be to restructure companies like Facebook and Amazon into smaller shares of the market that would create more openings for new startups to emerge and compete. However, others argue that a break up would disrupt the low consumer prices and benefits some small-businesses get from these companies. 

Meanwhile, others argue that these companies should be reigned in, but not necessarily broken up. These advocates prefer an antitrust policy less reactive and more proactive to the market. The major consideration in this realm would be to cap mergers that would decrease competition: this approach would seek, not to break up Facebook’s merger with Instagram, but to prevent a merger of this kind from occurring in the future. Big Tech’s dominance of the markets could be in danger based on the Presidential Election. Paul Gallant, at Cowen Washington Research Group, calculated the likelihood of antitrust lawsuits for both Facebook and Amazon based on the results of the 2020 Election. 


Gallant predicted that under a second term for President Trump, Facebook would face a 40% chance of antitrust litigation and Amazon a 30% chance. President Trump has leveled much criticism at Big Tech companies for what he alleges is anti-conservative bias and restriction of free speech. Trump has yet to call for any big tech companies to be broken up. But, Professor Rebecca Haw Allensworth, a Professor in antitrust at Vanderbilt Law School, has noted “Trump’s administration is a lot more likely to go for liability, whereas other conservative administrations have been more laissez-faire.” In other words, Trump’s approach diverges from traditional conservatives when it comes to antitrust policies. Prior administrations have sought to let the market sort itself out, and Trump has shown a willingness to get involved. Allensworth notes that Trump’s aggression means there is less distance between Trump and Biden on competition than on issues like healthcare and immigration. Trump’s Department of Justice has recently shaken up Big Tech by filing suit against Google for anticompetitive abuses in search practices, and the DOJ did not rule out a possible break up of Google. 


Gallant predicted a Biden administration would be tougher on Facebook with a 60% chance of litigation and a 40% chance for Amazon. A recent report from the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee lays out strong accusations of anticompetitive acts by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. The report from the Democratic majority advocates for breaking the companies into “structural separations”, which Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colorado) called a “non-starter” for Republicans. This prescription has sounded an alarm bell for some Big Tech allies in the event that democrats take back the Senate. Facebook has already prepared a defense against any efforts to break up their ownership of Instagram and Whatsapp in response to recent congressional investigations. However, Allensworth noted that antitrust legislation coming from the Congress would be a “heavy lift” due to the fact that “for the last hundred years, it has come from the Executive Branch.” Biden has said that breaking up Big Tech companies like Facebook is “something we should take a hard look at.” However, Vice President Biden and Senator Sanders’ Unity Plan states that “breaking up corporations” would be a “last resort.” 

The Verdict: We can’t predict if Biden or Trump would break up Big Tech, but we do know that neither candidate is an ally to Big Tech. 

Photo Credit: Joseph Gruber on Flickr, CC BY-ND