Hello boy, this is a moment. Has a government agency in the United States sued Amazon of allegations that the company is breaking the law by unfairly suppressing competition.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the District of Columbia Attorney General, joins the government’s recent antitrust proceedings against Google and Facebook. These lawsuits will take forever, and legal experts have said that companies do likely to have the upper hand in court.
However, DC Attorney General Karl Racine is making a legal argument against Amazon that is both old-fashioned and novel, and it could become a blueprint for the ripple of big tech power.
It’s a long-standing claim by some independent retailers who sell on Amazon’s digital mall that the company punishes them when they sell their products at a cheaper price on their own websites or other shopping sites such as Walmart.com. These sellers are effectively saying that Amazon dictates what happens on shopping pages across the internet and that is how they manufacture products expensive for all of us.
Racine made this claim a core part of his lawsuit. Amazon has previously said that merchants have absolute authority to set prices on the products they sell on its website, but that ignores the fact that the company has subtle levers to make merchants’ products virtually invisible to buyers. If a retailer lists a product at a cheaper price on another website, Amazon can respond by making it more cumbersome for a buyer to purchase the item.
In a statement to my colleagues, Amazon said that retailers are free to list and rate their products as they see fit, but Amazon can choose not to highlight products that are not at competitive prices.
Why is the Attorney General’s claim a big deal?
Legal experts have said it is difficult to sue tech giants for violating antitrust laws. This is in part due to the way US competition laws have been written, interpreted, and enforced over the decades. However, the lawsuit against Amazon circumvents this by stating that the tech giant is hurting the public just as much as the railways and steel giants of the 19th century – by heavily arming competition and raising prices at will.
Last year, legal scholar and big tech critic Tim Wu told me He believed these price claims represented the strongest potential antitrust lawsuit against Amazon for legal reasons. (He has since been selected advise the White House on corporate competition issues.)
I don’t know if any of these lawsuits against Big Tech will succeed in undermining the enormous influence of companies. And I can’t definitely say if we are better or worse when we have a handful of high performing tech companies that make products that are used and often loved by billions of people.
However, it has been remarkable to see the evolution of thinking among some citizens and politicians, from justified awe of these companies and what they do, to questioning the disadvantages of technology and the sometimes audacious companies that stand behind them.
It’s an unfair and loud mess at times. But think about why we got here: Tech giants are among the most powerful forces in our world, and The price of power is control.
How to fight back against fake online information: Comedian Sarah Silverman and three of my colleagues are hosting a virtual event on Wednesday about disinformation and how to fight it. Login here for the online event at 7 p.m. Eastern. It is only open to New York Times subscribers.
Before we go …
Florida has passed a law that provides for this fine social media company for the permanent blocking of the accounts of political candidates. The move is most likely unconstitutional and unenforceable, Democrats, libertarian groups and tech companies told my colleague David McCabe, but it is a response to Facebook and Twitter’s suspension of former President Donald Trump.
Posting is life. My colleague Taylor Lorenz explains how social media invitations to a teen’s birthday party look like on TikTok and drew thousands of people and police action. Part of the reason the event grew big was because attendees had the opportunity to post compelling material online. SIGH.
POTUS loves Apple News? I don’t like computers and smartphones coming with device manufacturer apps already installed, but it’s effective – even with the President of the United States. The Washington Post reported During the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden shared Apple News human interest stories with the aides posted on his iPhone that he apparently did not delete.
The Linda Lindas are splendid. Here is the talented punk band of four girls between the ages of 10 and 16 – Bela, Eloise, Mila and Lucia – play “Racist, Sexist Boy” in a public library in Los Angeles. The guard interviewed her of her sudden internet fame.
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