Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: Where are the antitrust laws?

I may be in the minority when I admit I'm not a fan of Amazon.

I know many people enjoy their low prices, vast catalog of consumer goods and fast shipping times. But I've had a slightly different experience with the e-commerce giant, one that most others probably haven't.

During the summer after my sophomore year of college, I found a job at an RV dealership. One of my jobs was to list RV replacement parts on Amazon, eBay and other e-commerce websites.

I had to deal with Amazon's strict catalog policies, arbitrary intellectual property disputes and their spotty web services. I probably spent a quarter of my time on the phone with IT support. Needless to say, this wasn't a very enjoyable summer job.

But this experience has given me the insight to understand the power that companies like these have – power that has long been unchecked. Tech companies have been able to buy up competitors, underpay their workers and lobby the U. S. government.

In July 2020, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google were formally accused of misusing their wealth of power to squander competitors in their respective markets. In October 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives Antitrust Subcommittee stated Amazon had been taking advantage of their position to unfairly compete with other third party sellers on its digital platform.

In the report, the subcommittee said each of these companies had abused their monopoly positions in their respective industries, often buying or undermining any competitors to retain this position of power. One internal communication report obtained from Facebook reveals CEO Mark Zuckerberg stating that the company "can likely always just buy any competitive startups."

These kinds of statements and behavior are anti-competitive and anti-American. This country was built on competitive industry. Businesses need to compete to offer the lowest price in order to generate the highest profit. Obviously not all markets operate exactly in this way, but in most cases competition is still necessary. How are we to innovate if larger companies kill that opportunity from the start?

This is exactly what I discovered after working within Amazon's seller platform. Third party sellers are able to create an account for an annual fee and sell their products given Amazon’s OK. Often, Amazon prohibits the sale of certain items for arbitrary and unsupported reasons – one of the many ways in which Amazon unfairly competes with third party sellers.

Obviously, each of the companies accused rebutted stating they don't agree with the report, it's a stretch to suggest these companies are acting in this way and this will only hurt the consumers.

Even though these companies amass millions of dollars each year, enjoy more freedom than they should realistically retain and stifle any hint of competition, they "can't afford" to take any sort of punishment which would result in financial loss. So they frame this as "hurting the consumer" when they have the power to dictate whether or not this actually affects the consumer at all.

God forbid, multi-billion dollar corporations make a little less money and get even the slightest slap on the wrist. Of course we can't have that, because the shareholders would get upset.

I don't understand this. Any entity, business or otherwise, that enjoys the position of power like these companies should always expect to be scrutinized and held accountable. And if they can't hold themselves to a higher standard, then the U.S. should. We need to begin enacting more of the antitrust laws we saw decades ago.

Sean Gilley (he/him) is a senior studying political science and economics with a certificate in informatics.

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