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Big Tech battles antitrust cases at home and abroad

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An illustration picture taken in London on December 18, 2020 shows the logos of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft displayed on a mobile phone with an EU flag displayed in the background. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

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A European Union court had bad news for Google last week, upholding an earlier ruling against the web search giant. It accused the company of engaging in anti-competitive behavior.

That ruling also upheld much of the record fine the EU imposed on the company, equivalent to more than $4 billion.

And in California, Amazon was hit with yet another lawsuit last week focused on its power to set prices.

Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams recently spoke with Matt Stoller, director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project, about how the Google case in Europe might affect things here in the U.S.

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Matt Stoller: These companies operate everywhere, and the market structure is pretty similar everywhere. And so when you make a tweak, say, in Australia, you can see what happens in Australia. And you could pretty much assume that the same thing is going to happen if you’d make that same tweak in the U.S. or, you know, in Germany or wherever. And so we’re all learning from each other. And policy is advancing very quickly because we have all of these, I guess you could call them laboratories of democracy that, you know, which we used to just say of the 50 states. But now you can actually say that, you know, every country in the world has an antitrust agency.

Kimberly Adams: Turning to the other case, there have been other states and the District of Columbia taking action against Amazon’s practices. What’s different about California’s lawsuit?

Stoller: What the California state attorney general has done is he’s brought a case under a broader set of laws, which are laws against unfair competition. And it doesn’t require as aggressive a proof of monopoly power. And in fact, it was the same case that was brought in Germany, and the California complaint cites the German competition enforcers. So, again, you have this kind of like synchronicity or “orchestra of enforcement” all over the world.

Adams: If California succeeds in this case against Amazon, or any of these other districts that are pursuing it, what would that mean for the company’s business model?

Stoller: So what we would see is lower prices, a lot more flexibility in the retail sector, a lot more, sort of, smaller stores and retail outlets and big ones like Walmart being able to compete with Amazon.

Adams: So states are taking action, the EU is taking action and, as you mentioned, we’ve got these laboratories of democracy trying out all these new ways to regulate these huge tech companies. What about the U.S. federal government? Where is federal action in all of this?

Stoller: So at a federal level, the [Department of Justice] has a case against Google. The [Federal Trade Commission] has a couple of cases against Facebook. I know the FTC is investigating Amazon, the DOJ is investigating Apple. And so you’re gonna see a lot more cases coming out at a federal level. Sometimes they coordinate with the states, sometimes they don’t. But what’s happening is the states are acting and the federal government is acting. You know, Congress is having discussions, and these cases are starting to hit the courts. So we’re going to start to see significant changes in business models here.

You can read Amazon’s response to California’s lawsuit here.

At the time of this episode, Google had not given Marketplace a direct response to the European Union ruling, but you can read its statement on the matter here via The New York Times

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