Antitrust probe of Facebook may be first step against Big Tech

New York Attorney General Letitia James. (File/AP)
Updated 07 September 2019

Antitrust probe of Facebook may be first step against Big Tech

  • The case may be the first in a series of antitrust actions against Big Tech firms

WASHINGTON: A coalition of US states unveiled on Friday an antitrust investigation of Facebook, the first of what is expected to be a wave of action against dominant technology firms.
New York state Attorney General Letitia James announced the action on behalf of seven other states and the District of Columbia to probe “whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk.”
The case may be the first in a series of antitrust actions against Big Tech firms and highlights growing “techlash,” based on worries about platforms which control the flow of online information and dominate key economic sectors.
“We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising,” James said.
Joining the action were attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee, said James.
Earlier this year the US Justice Department said it would launch a “review” of major online platforms to determine if they have stifled innovation or reduced competition.
It was not immediately clear if the states would be working in coordination with federal officials.
Facebook offered no immediate comment, but in the past it has claimed it is not a monopoly and that consumers have many choices for how to connect with people online.
The new probe “shows how unease with large tech companies is spreading beyond Congress and the federal government agencies to the states,” said Michael Carrier, professor of antitrust law at Rutgers University.
“With each passing day, there are greater fears about these companies controlling our online lives.”
Yet the legal basis for an antitrust action remains unclear, said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.
“It remains to be seen if the (attorneys general) have any merit to their complaints or if they will be conducting a fishing expedition hoping to find some damning evidence,” Goldman said.
“Companies as large as Google or Facebook probably have minor problematic practices the AGs could target, but I’m still waiting for any evidence that would support more structural challenges to the Internet giants’ practices.”
A separate coalition of states was set to launch another antitrust initiative, with Google reportedly a target.
The office of the Texas attorney general scheduled an event Monday in Washington with a “broad coalition of states” to unveil a probe into “whether large tech companies have engaged in anticompetitive behavior that stifled competition, restricted access, and harmed consumers.”
Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said the company’s services “help people every day, create more choice for consumers, and support thousands of jobs and small businesses across the country” and pledged to “work constructively with regulators.”
Maurice Stucke, a University of Tennessee law professor, said he expects one of the areas being investigated will be online advertising markets, which are dominated by Google and Facebook.
“This is a great area to look at because the market has been criticized as being opaque,” Stucke said.
Stucke said the investigations may go further by looking at how tech platforms control data, potentially examining “the intersection between competition law and privacy.”
Amazon and Apple may also be in the crosshairs. Critics have complained that Amazon wields too much power in online retail, and that Apple may disadvantage rivals offering services in its app store.
In the European Union, Google has faced a series of antitrust actions and Amazon is now being targeted by enforcers.
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has made a breakup of the big tech firms a part of her campaign platform.
But some analysts say the case against the tech firms faces challenges because the companies have in many cases provided services for free and brought prices down, making it hard to prove they harmed “consumer welfare,” a longstanding judicial precedent.
Jessica Melugin of the Competitive Enterprise Institute said the state officials are stretching the limits of antitrust.
“This sort of high-profile activism may benefit state AGs’ political ambitions, but impose harmful costs on consumers, businesses, and the economy,” she said in a statement.
But Stucke said it would be wrong to view antitrust law as solely focused on consumer prices, and that it may be applied to questions of competition and innovation.
The probes could end up with a variety of outcomes including fines, restrictions on conduct or a breakup, Stucke maintained.
“You’d have to show how the remedy would address the concerns,” he said.


China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a game-changer

Updated 1 min 43 sec ago

China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a game-changer

  • Project will strengthen bond between two countries who share history of good strategic relations

China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a game-changer

Project will strengthen bond between two countries who share history of good strategic relations

Syed Hamzah Saleem Gilani

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), presently under construction at a cost of $46 billion, aims to improve Pakistani infrastructure and deepen the economic and political ties between China and Pakistan.

CPEC is advantageous to Pakistan but also carries substantial economic and strategic benefits for China.


Its importance for China is evident from the fact that it is part of China’s 13th five-year development plan.

CPEC will boost ties between China and Pakistan, which share a history of congenial strategic relations, over a versatile canvass of mutual interest extending over six decades.

In the past 65 years, both countries have developed strong bilateral trade and economic collaboration.

China is Pakistan’s largest trading partner in imports and exports. And CPEC is going further to enhance the lucrative economic cooperation between the two countries.

If realized, the plan will be China’s biggest splurge on economic development in another country to date.

It aims over 15 years to create an economic corridor between Gwadar Port to China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang through the 2,700 km long highway from Kashgar to Gwadar, railway links for freight trains, oil and gas pipelines and an optical fiber link.

The project will create nearly 700,000 new jobs and add up to 2.5 percent to Pakistan’s annual growth rate.

CPEC has undeniable economic and strategic importance for Pakistan and China. It has been called a game-changer for Pakistan because it will link China with markets in Central Asia and South Asia. Presently China is some 13,000 km from the Arabian Gulf with a shipping time of about 45 days.

CPEC will shrink this distance to merely 2,500 km (an 80 percent reduction).

The shipping time will reduce to 10 days (a 78 percent reduction). The bulk of China’s trade is through the narrow sea channel of the Strait of Malacca.

Top security analysts say that in the event of a future war in Asia, the US Navy could block the Strait of Malacca, which would suffocate China’s trade route. CPEC, besides providing an alternate route, will reduce the shipping time from China to Europe.

The largest part of the project would provide electricity to energy-thirsty Pakistan, badly affected by hours of daily scheduled power cuts because of electricity-shortages, based mostly on building new coal-fired power plants.

The plans envisages adding 10,400 megawatts of electricity at a cost of $15.5 billion by 2018. And after 2018 a further 6,600 megawatts, at an additional cost of $18.3 billion, will be added, doubling Pakistan’s current electricity output.

The CPEC brings many benefits for China and Pakistan, but it is also challenged by security-related and political threats.

There are two major sources of threat: Indian involvement, and the separatist rebellion in Baluchistan where the port of Gwadar is situated.

Both dimensions of threat are interconnected because recent arrests of Indian spies by Pakistan reveal that the Indian government is spending a huge amount of money and resources on sabotaging the CPEC project.

Apart from espionage activities, India is also supporting the Baloch rebels. Nevertheless, Pakistan is well-equipped, with adequate security and infrastructure support to effectively deal with such challenges. Operation “Zarb-e-Azb,” which has received international recognition, has flushed out the major chunk of extremists from Pakistan’s soil.

The political side of the project for Pakistan is also not rosy.

It is always difficult to achieve political consensus on an issue. The Kalabagh dam project, for example, which is considered to be extremely important in addressing Pakistan’s water-shortage problems, has been subjected to political controversy and still awaits construction.

Similar formulas are being applied to CPEC. Drums of provincialism are being beaten loudly to make CPEC another Kalabagh dam.

However, this time sanity has prevailed in the political leadership and controversies were nipped in the bud at an early stage. Besides the efforts of political leaders, the contribution of the Army chief should not go unappreciated.

He took a special interest in this project and provided — and ensured for the future — the Pakistan Army’s full support for the mega-economic project.

CPEC has the potential to carry huge economic benefits for the people of Pakistan and the region. According to a recent estimate, CPEC will serve three billion people, nearly half of the global population. Thus a huge economic bloc is about to emerge from this region.

On completion of the CPEC, Pakistan will become a connecting bridge to three engines of growth: China, Central Asia, and South Asia.

It will create many jobs and elevate Pakistan to high growth rates, which will ensure Pakistan’s stability and serve as a deterrent to extremism and violence.

The completion of CPEC is not going to be an easy task because it has attracted international conspiracies, against which it must be protected.

The economic dividends of this project, by connecting all the economies of the region, are going to be so high that once this project is in full-operation even our neighbor India might ultimately join the club for greater economic benefits.

* The author is Pakistan’s press counselor in Jeddah

Related