What does aggregation theory tell us about Google’s antitrust case?

We speak concerning the large tech corporations on a regular basis, however the sheer scale of them will be exhausting to grasp. Google at present runs the most well-liked search engine, the most well-liked net browser, and the most well-liked cell working system (on a worldwide foundation, at the least). Amazon employed 427,000 folks this 12 months, bringing its international workforce to properly over 1 million. In its most up-to-date quarter, Fb introduced in a mean of $230 million in income every day. Whole books have been written about how every of those corporations clamored to the highest, and there’s so much that’s distinctive to every one — however there’s additionally one thing larger occurring. How did these corporations get so highly effective so quick?

The perfect reply we now have is Aggregation Theory, a time period coined and developed by Stratechery’s Ben Thompson. The fundamental thought is that the web led to a sea change in how merchandise get distributed — or extra exactly, how they get from the folks making them to the folks shopping for them. For many twentieth century merchandise, distribution was managed by the producer (suppose Ford dealerships and Apple Shops), however that adjustments with the web. Immediately, you’ve got intermediaries like Amazon that wield loads of their energy by controlling the provision of shoppers. Producers are actually competing simply to get on Amazon’s entrance web page since that’s the place the entire clients are. Usually phrases, it’s not that totally different from a division retailer like Macy’s, but it surely’s occurring on a scale that these earlier intermediaries may by no means obtain.

There’s much more element to the speculation, so you need to read Thompson’s posts if you wish to get the gritty particulars. (Our video above covers the fundamentals.) It’s an in depth and compelling case for why internet-era enterprise is totally different from what got here earlier than, with loads of implications for anybody doing enterprise with them.

However over the previous few weeks, there’s been a surprisingly heated debate about what aggregation principle means for the antitrust motion. The argument began with a post from Columbia Law professor Tim Wu, making an attempt to carve out a spot for antitrust motion into aggregation principle’s broader story about tech corporations competing to higher serve shoppers. Thompson responded just a few days later, and the outcome has been a remarkable back-and-forth between the 2 males, moving into the small print of switching prices and the mechanics of how Google, particularly, enforces its dominance.

Up to now, it’s simply an argument between two thinkers, but it surely may have vital penalties in courtroom. Google is at present preventing an ambitious antitrust case from the US Department of Justice, and skeptics in Congress are pushing related arguments in opposition to Fb, Amazon, and Apple. However these antitrust instances argue that web corporations obtained so large by utilizing market energy to drive out rivals by way of acquisitions, predatory pricing, or different exclusionary offers. It’s a a lot easier case than aggregation principle and a a lot scarier one.

Wu is primarily involved with the assorted methods Thompson’s principle could possibly be used to fend off lively antitrust prosecutions like US v. Google — however there are tough questions ready as regulators begin to search for concrete methods to unwind the alleged monopolies. If the teachings of aggregation principle actually do apply, these questions could also be even more durable than they appear.

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