Center for American Progress

RELEASE: CAP Brief Finds Evidence of Anti-Competitive Behavior by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google
Press Release

Washington, D.C. — Ahead of the U.S. House Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee’s hearing with the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google on Wednesday, CAP Chief Economist and Senior Fellow Marc Jarsulic is publishing a new issue brief that finds there is very good reason to believe that all four companies are engaging in anti-competitive behavior

In “Using Antitrust Law To Address the Market Power of Platform Monopolies,” Jarsulic looks specifically at the digital advertising businesses of Google; the social media and advertising businesses of Facebook; the App Store business of Apple; and the Amazon Marketplace. Based on publicly available evidence, he finds good reason to believe they are protected by barriers to entry that confer market power. He also finds good reason to believe that the companies have taken actions to augment their market power or limit competition:

  • Google appears to have used its market power in internet search, along with its extraordinary access to data on the digital behavior of people using free services such as Google search and the Chrome browser, to help establish its unique ad-tech stack, giving the company market power in digital advertising intermediation. The market power of the ad-tech stack appears to have been augmented by the acquisition of firms to give it presence in all phases of the ad delivery process, as well as policies such as withholding some output and results from search ads unless the ads were delivered using Google’s demand-side ad platform.
  • Facebook’s dominant position in social media and its ability to harvest data about its users’ digital activities across the internet appear to give it market power in digital advertising. Its growth as a social network appears closely tied to a policy of disguising its data harvesting, and it has acquired potential rivals such as WhatsApp and Instagram and denied interoperability with other digital services to forestall competition.
  • Apple may be using control of the App Store, which is the only way that users of the Apple iOS operating system can buy apps for iPhones, to disadvantage competitor apps by restricting normal business interactions with their customers, as well as by making changes to their apps more difficult.
  • Amazon’s online retail search algorithm appears to favor goods sold by third-party Marketplace sellers who use Amazon warehousing services or who purchase ads on Amazon. This can make third-party sellers less effective competitors to Amazon by reducing their ability to user lower-cost or preferred options. The algorithm apparently also disfavors third-party sellers who offer lower prices elsewhere, making it more difficult for other online retail platforms to attract those sellers and compete with Amazon.

Jarsulic concludes that the behavior of all four tech giants warrants close scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division for potential anti-competitive behavior.

“Evidence suggests that Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon are protected by barriers to entry that confer market power,” Jarsulic said. “Given the outsize role these companies play in American commerce, communications, and culture, it’s important that government regulators pay close attention to potential anti-competitive behavior and all that implies.”

Read the issue brief: “Using Antitrust Law To Address the Market Power of Platform Monopolies” by Marc Jarsulic

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Julia Cusick at [email protected].