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Busting Big Tech

The European Commission’s recent decision to charge Apple with antitrust violations is further evidence that regulators around the world are seeking to curtail the market power of Big Tech. But official motives differ considerably across countries, and breaking up today’s internet behemoths might not produce the desired result.

In this Big Picture, Columbia Law School’s Anu Bradford shows how America’s laissez-faire approach to governing the digital economy has enabled the European Union to emerge as the leading global rule-maker, but notes that US regulators are starting to wake up to Big Tech’s excesses.

But Eric Posner of the University of Chicago cautions that targeting market-dominant tech firms will require transforming public opinion as well as overcoming legal obstacles. And MIT’s Daron Acemoglu warns that antitrust enforcement alone will not be enough to push technological change in the direction of empowering workers, consumers, and citizens, rather than toward the creation of a surveillance state and an economy bereft of good jobs.

Big Tech is being targeted in China, too, where Angela Huyue Zhang of the University of Hong Kong argues that the authorities’ sudden and aggressive antitrust action against the e-commerce giant Alibaba risks undermining investor confidence. Likewise, Minxin Pei of Claremont McKenna College thinks that reining in China’s private sector will probably strengthen the Communist Party of China’s grip on power for now, but could undermine it in the longer term.

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