Randy Picker on Why the Antitrust Process Might Not Be the Right Way to Deal with Big Tech

Is breaking up big tech the solution to online hate or election meddling?

MF: What ideas have you heard about using antitrust law to deal with concerns over Facebook?

RP: Something that people talk about, but often pretty casually, is whether or not in some sense the Instagram and WhatsApp mergers, purchases, should be undone … It’s a fairly concrete situation where you might say, “well we could use antitrust to do that.”

I think on careful analyses that turns out to be a lot harder than one might think. In the sense that both the Instagram and WhatsApp purchases by Facebook, the antitrust authorities looked at those when those took place. There’s a process in the United States called Hart-Scott-Rodino pre-merger notification–that’s a mouthful–which says that basically when you’re buying a firm and it’s sufficiently big you’ve got to say, “hey government we’re buying this firm, what do you think?” And in both of those cases, that kind of process was run in the United States and in Europe and they all said, “those are fine.” Now people seem to think that was a mistake and that maybe we should break those up. But the reality is I’m not aware of any substantial situation where we have had mergers go through this heads-up process—Hart-Scott-Rodino–and then broken them up after the fact when we approved them the first time.

Read more at Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists