U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ruled with the majority on Monday that iPhone users can sue Apple Inc. over its app prices. Kavanaugh rejected Apple’s argument that consumers could not challenge the company’s policy of taking a 30 percent commission from its apps and refusing to let consumers purchase iPhone apps from third parties.
“It is undisputed that the iPhone owners bought the apps directly from Apple,” Kavanaugh argued.
While this is a great start, we may need new legislation to prevent monopolies like Apple and Google from discriminating against consumers and small businesses that use their platforms.
What’s most surprising is that Kavanaugh sided with the four liberal justices in his decision. The other four conservative justices dissented from his opinion.
Several conservative commentators lashed out at Kavanaugh for his decision. Ben Shapiro said the ruling justified his skepticism of Kavanaugh. Radio host Jesse Kelly said the vote proved Kavanaugh was “standard Washington D.C. GOP” and “pathetic.” Daily Wire writer Josh Hammer called the justice a “lifelong inside-the-Beltway D.C. swamp creature” and his ruling “an egregious endorsement of a dubious antitrust legal theory.”
Apparently, “true conservatives” are supposed to support Big Tech over the average consumer.
In reality, Kavanaugh did not violate conservative principles or please the swamp. The swamp is full of lobbyists, journalists, and think tankers who receive lucrative salaries courtesy of tech giants. It’s doubtful they were pleased by Monday’s ruling.
Instead, his ruling empowers Americans to fight back against the tech giants. Apple and Google operate a duopoly on the mobile operating systems market, where over 99 percent of the market is collectively controlled by Apple and Google’s Android. Their business practices ensure they are the only ones in the game. For instance, Android makes Google Chrome its default browser, and Google pays Apple billions to have its search engine as the default on iPhones.
Very few companies have the capital to make their services competitive in this environment. Neither Apple nor Google want fair competition. They want to rule the market.
How does it benefit the consumer to be stuck with only two companies who shut out all competition?
Unfortunately, too many conservatives idealize corporate giants and fear government intervention more than corporate tyranny. Fortunately, Justice Kavanaugh is not one of them.
Antitrust laws are designed to help the consumer and limit corporate abuse. Americans who fear big government should be just as worried about powerful corporations that control our information, shape our news, and provide the public forums of the 21st century.
The Trump campaign understood this in 2016. In an official Trump campaign statement less than a month before the election, economist Peter Navarro praised the righteousness of antitrust laws.
“Over a hundred years ago, a pro-business Teddy Roosevelt busted up more than 40 oil, railroad, steel and other ‘trusts’ that were wielding their rapacious monopoly power to gouge consumers and interfere with the efficient functioning of the American economy,” said Navarro, who currently serves as President Trump’s director of trade and manufacturing policy.
He added this promise about perfidious corporations that control Americans’ information: “Donald Trump will break up the new media conglomerate oligopolies that have gained enormous control over our information, intrude into our personal lives, and in this election, are attempting to unduly influence America’s political process.”
The subject was media companies, but it easily could have been about tech giants.
President Trump said in November that his administration is looking at Amazon, Facebook, and Google for potential antitrust violations.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a bonafide conservative, has also suggested antitrust laws as a possible weapon against Big Tech.
“By almost any measure, the giant tech companies today are larger and more powerful than Standard Oil when it was broken up,” Cruz said in April. “If we have tech companies using the powers of monopoly to censor political speech, I think that raises real antitrust issues.”
Conservatives claim Kavanaugh sided with the liberals on Monday. Even if that were true (it really isn’t), that’s preferable to siding with the oligarchs of Silicon Valley. Big Tech deserves more antitrust scrutiny, not less. Smart conservatives should understand this.
If anything, existing antitrust laws may not go far enough against the tech giants. As the Internet Association—which represents Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and other tech companies—hypocritically argued in a brief on “net neutrality”: “ex post antitrust enforcement is ill-equipped to provide the certainty needed to promote future innovation and cannot address non-economic factors, like the free speech concerns at the heart of ensuring that consumers can access internet content of their choice.”
This is a legitimate point, but tech giants only wanted it to apply to their competitors. Net neutrality only covered internet service providers—not tech platforms.
When it comes to smartphones, Google and Apple’s duopoly can block any app that threatens their precious business model or any political view they deem offensive. If your app is blocked by Apple or Google, it’s far worse for your business than anything these companies complained would happen without net neutrality.
Justice Kavanaugh this week helped make tech giants a little more accountable, but perhaps Congress and President Trump need to go further and champion “Big Tech Neutrality.” To paraphrase every tech executive’s opinion on net neutrality, Big Tech neutrality would ensure tech platforms remain free and open to all.
Only Google-funded conservatives could oppose the idea.
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