DOJ antitrust cop hammers ‘whack-a-mole’ approach to reining in Big Tech

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The Justice Department’s top antitrust cop said he wants to “unplug” monopolistic Big Tech firms and drove home his support for a stalled congressional bill intended to rein in Google, Amazon, Meta and Apple during a fiery speech on Friday. 

Jonathan Kanter, the Biden-appointed assistant attorney general who leads the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said U.S. regulators had previously taken a “whack-a-mole” approach to monopolistic behavior by Big Tech companies. 

“No one ever really wins that game — the moles just keep coming,” Kanter said. “To stop them from popping up, you really need to unplug the machine. In the same way, enforcers need to unplug the monopolization machine in digital platform industries.” 

During his speech at the Fordham University Conference on International Law and Policy in Manhattan, Kanter called for US antitrust regulators to take a far more aggressive approach to enforcing current laws. 

“The digital economy has enabled monopoly power of a nature and degree not seen before in our country,” Kanter said in front of an audience at the Fordham law school that included many lawyers who defend tech firms against regulators like him.

FTC Chair Lina Khan, who also spoke at the conference Friday, called antitrust legislation in Congress “an extremely healthy development” despite it remaining stalled.
FTC Chair Lina Khan, who also spoke at the conference Friday, called antitrust legislation in Congress “an extremely healthy development” despite it remaining stalled.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and passed by the Senate Judiciary in January, would ban Big Tech companies from favoring their products over competitors in search results. For example, Amazon would not be allowed to favor its Amazon Basics products over competitors. 

Kanter, who did not call out companies by name but spoke about Big Tech more generally, also reiterated the Justice Department’s support of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which remains stalled in Congress. 

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said he supports the bill but has not brought it up for a vote, even though Klobuchar and Grassley have insisted for months they have the votes to pass it. Big Tech foes have accused Schumer of holding up the bill, while Schumer insists he’s waiting until it has enough votes

Prior to joining the Justice Department in July 2021, Kanter represented Google rivals and critics including Microsoft, Yelp and New York Post parent company News Corp. 

Ahead of Kanter’s speech, he greeted the European Union’s Competition Commissioner Margethe Vestager with a kiss on the cheek. 

Vestager spoke at the conference days after notching a major win against Google when a European court largely slapped down the search giant’s appeal of a record-breaking $4 billion fine for throttling competition and reducing consumer choice through the dominance of its mobile Android operating system. 

Two other top Biden administration antitrust officials also spoke on Friday.

Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan called antitrust legislation in Congress “an extremely healthy development,” while White House economic advisor Tim Wu called for lawmakers to better fund the FTC and Justice Department. 

“The agencies are engaged in extremely complicated, resource-intensive, expert-intensive litigation that is draining their pockets,” Wu said.