Law Decoded: New dawn or bad moon rising for trust-busting in tech, Jan. 29–Feb. 5

Every Friday, Law Decoded delivers analysis on the week’s critical stories in the realms of policy, regulation and law.

Editor’s note

As they say, the sun never sets on the Google empire. That said, the role of antitrust law in tech has been on the rise in recent years. Every indication is that the situation is only going to get worse for mega tech firms. 

So Jeff Bezos’ departure from the top spot at Amazon may well have been a beautifully timed case of quitting while you’re ahead. As I’ve mentioned before — “harped on about” might actually be more accurate — this is a widespread problem. The titans of tech have stepped on the wrong toes the wide world over. While governments spent much of the past 20 years looking indulgently upon tech industries, those wells of goodwill are running dry.

But what does that mean for crypto? Despite acting at times like an island, the crypto industry is still tightly tied to the mainland of the tech industry. But current crypto industry players are not really on the radar of antitrust enforcement. The industry’s familiar mechanisms for decentralized governance, open-sourcing software, and real-time viewable data, however, stand to attract more interest as regulators crack down on abuses of client data and proprietary digital secrets at firms like Facebook and Apple. A number of regulatory bodies are actually looking to blockchain technology as a means of securing data on firms that they might want to investigate for anticompetitive practices.

Casting back, the first mass push for antitrust laws came about in the U.S. after the Civil War, as a means of cracking down on Rockefeller/Vanderbilt/Carnegie-era dominance of shipping, rail, steel and oil industries — critical network industry for the task of united a nation recently divided against itself. Similarly, the highest profile enforcements of the past 50 years were modern variants like AT&T and Microsoft. Political antipathy towards Web 2.0 kingpins continues to grow and seems to be shaping into a new wave of antitrust.