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How Should Antitrust Deal With Facebook? A Stigler Center Panel Investigates

 |  June 10, 2022

By: Utsav Gandhi (Pro Market)

This year’s Stigler Center’s 2022 Antitrust and Competition Conference, which took place in late April this year, looked back over its previous five editions while also looking ahead to what’s next in enforcement. There was one particular corporate behemoth that couldn’t be left out of the conversation: Facebook–a company that has not only seen its strategic focus pivot to the “Metaverse” and name changed to Meta, but also its revenue balloon in size while weathering multiple storms over the last few years, ranging from user privacy concerns to anticompetive behavior, to allegations of fueling genocide and subverting democracy, both in the United States and abroad.

The final panel at this year’s Stigler Center conference took stock of answering several questions regarding Facebook and antitrust: Presuming guilt on Facebook’s part, what is the theory of harm against its practices? What remedies are currently being implemented globally, what are they hoping to achieve, and how likely are they to succeed? 

Moderating the panel was Adam Lashinsky, a journalist based in Silicon Valley who has long covered technology and big business. Joining him was an internationally-focused panel, including: Michal Gal bringing in the perspective from Asia and Europe and her expertise in competition policy for small market economies; Nicolas Petit from the European University Institute and his extensive work on technology regulation from across the Atlantic; Matt Stoller, from his US vantage point as the Director of Research at the American Economic Liberties Project; and rounding off the panel, Stigler Center Faculty Director and co-organizer of the conference, Luigi Zingales. 

Petit kicked off the panel by laying the groundwork for the most ambitious tech regulation platform proposed yet by any jurisdiction globally: the Digital Markets Act (DMA). Impacting both the “social network” aspect of Facebook (and Instagram) as well as its messaging services of WhatsApp and Messenger, the DMA imposes a broad restraint on combining data across these services and collecting or processing data from third-party services, he said. It will force Facebook to require users to opt-in and provide consent for data collection, and notably does not make it less or more expensive for those who do not consent to provide data versus those who do. The DMA also opens WhatsApp up to interoperability in a bilateral model negotiated between the platform and the interoperator…