DOJ And FTC Must Stop Big Tech Companies From Censoring Speech

This article first appeared in The Washington Times

The Trump administration’s pending ban on Americans doing business with TikTok and WeChat is hardly provocative. However, it casts a light on a threatening antitrust problem: the privatization and manipulation of the public square by technology companies.

China’s Great Firewall blocks Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR) and similar U.S. services, and China severely limits the operations of foreign tech giants like Google. This permits ByteDance, Tencent and others to develop social media platforms like TikTok and WeChat and other Internet businesses in a large protected domestic market and still compete in the United States and elsewhere.

WeChat is how the Chinese diaspora communicates with friends and business associates in China. Western companies like Starbucks (SBUX) and Walmart (WMT) market and obtain payments on WeChat, stealing sales from U.S. tech companies had they been allowed access in China.

Instead of complaining about U.S. efforts to stifle Chinese high tech, President Xi Jinping should be thankful its innovators benefited from a hothouse market for so long to develop internet businesses like Alipay and Alibaba (BABA).

The antitrust focus on Big Tech has centered on the data that giants like Amazon (AMZN), Facebook and Google (GOOGL) gather about individual habits to sell ads and market ideas. And the leverage that limiting access to their platforms potentially affords them over present and potential rivals.

Amazon, for example uses what it learns from the activities of businesses selling on Prime to develop competing products. It has entered mundane businesses like disposable diapers, been accused of predatory pricing to drive out competitors and muscling collaboration with smaller businesses and startups to obtain critical competitive information.

We need to be careful. While Amazon had its beginnings in the direct sale of books printed by big publishing houses, it has created a remarkable self- publishing platform through Kindle that permits authors to bypass the cultural screening of those publishers.

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Peter Morici is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and widely published columnist. He is the five time winner of the MarketWatch best forecaster ...

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