Friday, July 26, 2019

Facebook Co-Founder Campaigns To Break Up Tech Monopoly

Facebook co-founder campaigning to break up tech 'monopoly' he helped create

Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes has become one of the company's biggest problems.
In recent weeks, Hughes, who left the social media giant in 2007 and cashed out his nearly $500 million worth of stock, has been making the rounds in the nation's capital, visiting a dozen lawmakers and regulators at the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies which are all interested in examining whether Facebook has amassed too much power. He's talked with the attorney general of New York's staff.
In those meetings, which he sometimes attended on his own, he has presented a 39-page slide deck that makes a point-by-point legal case for breaking up the social network drawing on decades of antitrust law precedent.

The crux of the case, designed by two antitrust scholars: Facebook's wealth and power and massive user base have pushed it into monopoly territory, and its acquisitions of rivals have squashed competition. More than 2.7 billion people use Facebook or its other platforms, which include Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp, at least once a month, Facebook said Wednesday.

"I hope that my speaking out provides cover to a lot of other folks, whether former employees or current ones, to express ambivalence or concern about what's going on," Hughes said in an interview Thursday. "And I think there's a lot to be concerned about."

Hughes, who helped develop the social media giant with Mark Zuckerberg in their Harvard college dorm, has become a critical weapon to trust busters in a fight that keeps expanding in scope, threatening tech giants including Amazon, Apple and Google with potential new regulation or even a breakup. Just this week, the Justice Department said it was launching a new, expanded probe targeting "market-leading online platforms," And on Wednesday, Facebook disclosed it is facing an antitrust probe by the FTC.

He has become one of the most powerful in a new breed of antagonists to Facebook: A former executive who believes he created something is now harmful to society.

The growing momentum in the District of Columbia to more closely scrutinize the role of tech giants in consumers' lives and the effect on competition - one of the few bipartisan issues emerging among lawmakers and candidates across the nation - has often been fueled by private complaints by small businesses and rivals that feel they've gotten a raw deal as the massive companies dominant their relative spaces.

Hughes started his campaign publicly. After leaving Facebook to volunteer for President Barack Obama, he worked for years in politics and nonprofits, plus a four-year stint as owner of publication New Republic. In 2016, he helped found a think tank focused on inequality, a topic he wrote a book about last year. The research prompted questions regarding the dangers of the concentration of corporate power.

The decision to come out publicly in the op-ed was a difficult one, Hughes said.
"I knew I would lose some friends over it. And that's OK because some things are that important," he said. "But it's been nice on the other side of it too, to have the argument out there, to speak my mind about what I think and believe."
Soon after, Hughes was contacted by two prominent antitrust scholars, Scott Hemphill of New York University Law School and Tim Wu of Columbia Law School. The two academics and longtime collaborators had been developing an argument for breaking up Facebook. To them, the purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp represented a "plain vanilla violation of antitrust law, just low-hanging fruit," Wu said in an interview. They began to pitch lawmakers and regulators together.

No comments: