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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg surrounded by reporters and photographers at a Senate hearing.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees on the protection of user data, on April 10, 2018.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

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How 2020 Democrats think about breaking up Big Tech

Multiple candidates back increasing regulatory scrutiny on big tech companies, though some say “breakup” is more slogan than solution.

To find out how 2020 Democratic candidates would use their presidential powers to address different aspects of technology, we sent seven key questions to every campaign. This post includes six candidates’ answers to the first question. You can find answers to the other six questions on the landing page.

Should Facebook, Google, Apple, and/or Amazon be broken up? Why or why not?

Bernie Sanders: A few massive corporations have control over vast swaths of Americans’ lives. Facebook harvests the data of 228 million Americans and uses this sensitive information in dangerous ways. They have endangered our democracy and enabled the spread of disinformation and hatred on their platform. Amazon has amassed control over the e-commerce industry, capturing a full 50 percent of the market and using its power to drive down wages for workers and prices for suppliers.

When [I am] in the White House, [I] will reinvigorate the FTC and appoint an Attorney General who will aggressively investigate and break up these tech giants and other conglomerates that have monopolized nearly every sector of our economy. These corporate giants control too much of what we see, hear, and read online and must be subjected to regulation and antitrust authority.

Elizabeth Warren: Yes. I introduced my plan for this back in March. Today’s big tech companies have too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.

To make our government and our economy work, we need to stop big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor. That means breaking up Big Tech.

Pete Buttigieg: As president, I will hold online platforms accountable, demand comprehensive privacy protections, set standards of accountability and transparency for online political ads, elevate ongoing antitrust enforcement reviews, and ensure we keep market power in check for the benefit of consumers. I support the ongoing antitrust probes of online platforms by the Justice Department, FTC, and state attorneys general and will double antitrust enforcement budgets so the Justice Department can prioritize the scrutiny of large online platforms such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon under my administration. We will rigorously enforce the law, and if they continue the behavior, breaking up tech companies should be an option.

Technology is an important part of our lives. When people can trust their digital platforms, these platforms can help us connect, collaborate, and converse. But unfortunately, we’ve also seen how platforms have abused our trust and can be hijacked to become tools of foreign influence campaigns. They have facilitated the spread of patently untrue information and false political ads that have the potential to undermine our basic democratic values. The lack of strong privacy protections has led to the misuse of our private data, undermined user trust, and put our personal information at risk. We need to modernize our approach to privacy, antitrust enforcement, and competition policies to help restore trust and ensure that technological progress benefits all people. Specifically, I will:

  • Work with Congress to pass a comprehensive federal privacy bill that protects users and prohibits companies from exploiting data to the detriment of users. Work with Congress to modernize our antitrust laws and appoint Department of Justice officials who will elevate enforcement so that the government can protect consumers from anti-competitive behavior. As outlined in my rural economy plan, my administration will double funding for antitrust enforcement, reduce the reporting thresholds to shed light on this anticompetitive behavior, require the Justice Department to conduct post-merger reviews on a regular basis, and launch investigations on recent mergers with all options considered as remedies for anticompetitive behavior, including breaking up companies. We will also pursue substantive legal reforms, such as considering shifting the burden to certain large technology companies to prove that they can acquire the target company without hurting competition, rather than the government carrying the burden of proof that competition will be harmed.
  • Ensure the internet is safe, fair, and accessible to all. I believe our economy depends on ensuring that small businesses are able to get the same fair shot as large companies in the marketplaces of the 21st century.

Andrew Yang: In some cases, it makes sense for tech giants to divest parts of their businesses, but breaking up these companies won’t solve all the problems they’re causing, such as the negative effects of social media on our children. We should address these issues directly instead of relying on 20th century solutions.

Tom Steyer: Our government must deal with monopolies by enforcing our antitrust laws. It doesn’t because the politicians have been bought by those monopolistic corporations to keep from being regulated. We either need to break up some of these big tech companies or regulate them so they don’t continue to stifle innovation and competition, and harm the American consumer.

Michael Bennet: These four companies have amassed significant power over our economy and democracy, and they deserve close scrutiny. However, each company is different and poses different concerns. Some companies own the marketplace and compete in the marketplace. Other platforms benefit from compounding network effects. A one-size-fits-all approach to simply “break up big tech” is therefore more of a slogan than a solution. It also does nothing to address serious concerns related to privacy, free speech, and threats to small businesses.

With that said, I fully support DOJ, FTC, and State AG antitrust investigations into these markets. I also believe that we need to evaluate whether current antitrust standards and practices are working effectively to address the competition concerns raised by large internet platforms. In particular, the ability to collect large amounts of data, offer discounted services, and obtain a dominant market position (reinforced by network effects) threatens long-term damage to the market.

It is also crucial that antitrust enforcement and merger review account for how new business models can inhibit fair competition in ways that can harm workers, small businesses, and consumers. To that end, we should use the full power of existing authorities — including retrospective merger reviews — to establish strong rules of the road to level the playing field when anti-competitive behavior is apparent today. When breaking companies up will address anti-competitive conduct and promote competition, we should be prepared to do so. But that judgment should not be taken lightly and should be fact-based.