Is Antitrust Outdated in Today’s Tech World?

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A lot of attention gets put on antitrust probes and litigation. Big names like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others get thrown about as accusations of market manipulation, monopolization, and worse are voiced.

Many experts are beginning to question the antitrust actions of today and pointing out that they must change to keep up with the times. The antitrust regulations created for the Industrial Age may not fit in today’s Information Age.

It’s an interesting question and one that SF Gate tackles in a recent article. They point to the two schools of thought when it comes to antitrust: those who want to leave the market to even things out and those who want government to take a more aggressive role.

When you think about these approaches, they boil down to patience. Market forces take time and patience to work themselves out and, for the most part, seem to have done so thus far. But most people think in shorter terms than a few years, with most bureaucrats and elected officials thinking in terms of election cycles – which may not be long enough for the market to care for itself.

So with less patience, they and their supporters push for more government intervention to keep monopolies from forming.

Of course, in some cases, only the heavy hand of government seems able to do the job. Ma Bell is an obvious example. In today’s world, however, things are rarely so cut-and-dried. This is due to the nature of business, especially the huge conglomerates that make up the largest of the tech market.

Google, for instance, is more than just a search engine. It’s also an advertising agency and facilitator, a gadget designer, a software powerhouse, a connectivity and communications provider, and more. Similarly, Microsoft, Apple, and other big tech giants are also more generalists than they are specialists. Each has a specialty that it made its name on, but most are into several markets at once.

This makes them hard to quantify in terms of monopolistic tendencies. Google, for instance, has the Chrome browser which is currently the number one competitor to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which a few years ago was being accused of cornering the market in a monopoly. Apple, similarly, just about owns the market in smart phones, but is now seeing stiff competition from Google’s Android and may see competition in tablets very soon as well.

These companies are not mono-market industries like the carmakers and telephone providers of old. This makes them much harder to measure in terms of market dominance. Often these companies are inter-dependent as well.

In the end, this means that a lot needs to change both in our perception of what a monopoly is and how markets work together. The question is where our focus will lie. Will be be on the lookout for the new cartels working to corner markets or will we just wait for the giant generalists like Apple to begin to lose market share because specialists come in to better some of their core services?

It all depends on how much patience we have.

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