This past June, the House Judiciary Committee passed six long-awaited and necessary antitrust bills that will regulate Big Tech monopolies like Google and Amazon. This bipartisan legislation has been years in the making, but it could not have come at a more pressing time. Big Tech monopolies have shown time and time again that they will not regulate themselves, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the movement to delegitimize the 2020 presidential election.
Amazon abused its workers throughout the pandemic in order to expand its monopoly, which it obtained through a captive customer base. Even before COVID-19 stay-at-home orders increased Americans’ need for e-commerce, half of all U.S. online purchases were made on Amazon. In the first seven years of business, Amazon willingly took $2.8. billion in losses so that it could accumulate detailed data on its growing customer base. Amazon’s free two-day Prime shipping service now has more than 150 million U.S. subscribers, and Amazon uses their data to create barriers to entry for its competitors.
To keep up with customer demand, Amazon relies on ‘essential workers’ such as warehouse employees and delivery drivers to pack and ship goods at breakneck speed. Amazon kept its employees in dangerous and unhealthy working environments, refused to pay the employees it sent home sick, and neglected to inform warehouse workers about possible COVID-19 exposure in a timely manner, all in pursuit of the company’s self-proclaimed “customer obsession.” The company also provided grossly insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees; during the harrowing early days of the pandemic, Amazon delivery drivers in California received a single disinfectant wipe each to clean their vehicles throughout the day. Amazon even fired whistleblowers who called attention to the company’s poor safety practices and tried to discredit an employee who led a protest against unsafe working conditions by publicly deriding him as “not smart or articulate.”
Nearly 20,000 Amazon employees contracted COVID-19 in the first six months of the global health crisis alone. Meanwhile, the pandemic put $86 billion in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ coffers, making him the first person in world history with a net worth over $200 billion. Just to clarify; Bezos pocketed Amazon’s profits, did not invest in worker safety, and stepped down as CEO so that he could fly to space.
Google similarly proved its irresponsibility during past year and a half. The company’s monopoly on the search and digital advertising markets gives the company a financial incentive to promote dangerous material. According to Business Insider, Google and YouTube (Google’s subsidiary) are responsible for 90 percent of U.S. internet searches. Google uses that search monopoly to extract consumer data, which it then uses to sell digital ads that mimic the individual consumer’s online behavior in alarming and invasive ways. For example, if you use Google to search for “white dinner plates,” you’re likely to see ads for them pop up online long after you leave Google’s search bar page.
Google is willing and able to turn a blind eye to hateful content on its video platform, YouTube, because the company faces no competition that would hold them accountable for enabling threatening content. The more views YouTube accumulates, the more data Google can use to sell ads, so the platform continues to allow online fear-mongers to post incendiary videos.
News reports reveal that YouTube has repeatedly ignored warnings that the platform is spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation with deadly consequences. In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, YouTube turned a blind eye to “Stop the Steal” videos that intentionally bred mistrust in the election results, ultimately inciting thousands of Trump supporters to lead an attack on our nation’s capital. YouTube relented and started suspending conspiracy accounts the day after the riots, but by then it was too little, too late.
Amazon and Google have been able to claim that they have not violated federal antitrust rules because our century-old antitrust statutes only rely on pricing – both Amazon and Google’s prices are low or even free up to this point – to determine whether or not a company is hurting consumer welfare and thereby violating antitrust rules. However, the bipartisan legislation passed by the House Judiciary Committee will update antitrust rules to prohibit tech companies from using their massive wealth, accumulated thanks to consumer data, to hurt competition and exploit ongoing national chaos for profit.
Congress must pass the antitrust package advanced by the House Judiciary Committee and force these Big Tech monopolies to finally face the music.
Rick Armstrong is the Vice President of Teamsters Local 391, representing thousands of hardworking men and women from Central North Carolina to the coast.