A Primer on Regulating Big Tech

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A bi-partisan consensus has emerged around the need to regulate Big Tech.
By Robert Seamans
A bi-partisan consensus has emerged around the need to regulate Big Tech. Both Republicans and Democrats have increased their scrutiny of the role of dominant technology firms in our economy, primarily Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Complaints against these and other large tech platforms include that they censor right-wing content, stifle competition and innovation, and misuse sensitive consumer data.

This article provides a brief primer by describing a handful of clever approaches that have been suggested by politicians and other civic leaders to address the complaints about big tech.

Do Nothing
It used to be popular to argue against any new regulations or enforcement of large tech companies. One argument in favor of the “do nothing” approach is concern that new regulations would limit the amount of innovation in the sector, and that the sector is already innovative enough that the large, incumbent tech firms would eventually be disrupted as has happened to other large technology companies in the past. Proponents of the “do nothing” approach like to point to two historical examples – AOL and MySpace – as episodes in which large tech firms that were dominant at one point in time were quickly toppled.

This “argument by example” approach is problematic. It ignores that the tech industry has matured considerably since the days of AOL and MySpace, and also ignores how many years have passed since there has been any type of disruption to the firms at the top of the industry. Moreover, European governments have taken steps to regulate the sector, for example with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation in 2018, and with the UK’s creation of a Digital Markets Unit in 2019. By following the “do nothing” route, the United States would abdicate its ability to shape regulation in a way that would be favorable to U.S. technology firms.

Read the full Forbes article.

Robert Seamans is Associate Professor of Management and Organizations