TikTok, WeChat Highlight Broader Antitrust Issues

This article first appeared in MarketWatch.

President Donald Trump’s decision to ban individuals and businesses under U.S. jurisdiction from doing business with TikTok and WeChat is hardly provocative. However, it casts a light on an emerging 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. This has permitted ByteDance, Tencent and others to develop social media platforms such as TikTok and WeChat and other internet businesses in a large protected domestic market and compete in the United States and elsewhere.

WeChat is a platform for messaging, marketing, shopping and payments more comprehensive than anything we have here. Hence, the ban will limit the ability of Chinese in the United States to communicate with family at home and elsewhere, and U.S. companies like Walmart and Starbucks may have to place greater emphasis on other vehicles to market in China.

Instead of complaining these restrictions illustrate U.S. efforts to stifle Chinese high tech, President Xi Jinping should be thankful his innovators benefited from a protected market to develop businesses like Alipay and Alibaba.

The U.S. regulatory and antitrust focus on Big Tech has centered on how Amazon, Facebook, Google and others gather information about our behavior to sell ads and market ideas. And the advantages their dominant platforms potentially afford over present and potential rivals.

Amazon, for example, learns from the activities of businesses selling on Prime to develop competing products. In businesses like disposable diapers, it has been accused of predatory pricing and muscling collaboration with smaller businesses 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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