Skip to Content
Silicon Valley

Elizabeth Warren says it’s time to break up Big Tech

March 8, 2019

The US presidential hopeful claims companies like Facebook and Amazon have become too powerful—and that it’s time to blow up their empires.
 
The great divide: In a blog post, Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, said that if she wins office in 2020, she’s going to push for legislation that labels companies running online marketplaces with revenue of $25 billion or more as “platform utilities.” These utilities would be forbidden from competing with companies that use their platforms to reach customers.
 
Today, there’s nothing to prevent, say, Amazon from selling stuff itself while also hosting a vast e-commerce platform used by others. Antitrust campaigners have argued tthat this gives the tech giant, which sells its own gear and owns e-commerce businesses (e.g., Zappos) and a supermarket chain (Whole Foods), an unfair advantage over other firms.

In Warren’s plan, companies with revenues between $90 million and $25 billion would still be allowed to compete with users of their platforms, but they would have to adhere to certain fairness rules. Any business, large or small, caught violating the law would be fined 5% of its annual revenue.
 
The great unwinding: Warren also says she would appoint much tougher antitrust regulators who would work to reverse anticompetitive mergers in tech. Amazon, for instance, would be required to divest Zappos and Whole Foods, Facebook would have to get rid of WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google would have to say goodbye to Nest, its smart-home business, and to Waze, a digital navigation service.
 
Warren says that this and her platform proposal will benefit small businesses, beef up privacy, and help content creators like local newspapers and musicians make more money.
 
The great backlash: There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Big Tech’s reach, as we have highlighted. The influence that companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook have over what we read, watch, and buy is unprecedented—and it poses unprecedented challenges for traditional antitrust regimes.
 
Even if Warren isn’t elected, her proposals are likely to influence other candidates in the presidential race. Expect big tech companies to weigh in against them—and to take steps to make it harder for them to be broken up. Facebook has done this by announcing plans to integrate its WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger services far more tightly, though that may not be enough to keep regulators at bay.

Deep Dive

Silicon Valley

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Twitter’s potential collapse could wipe out vast records of recent human history

What happens when the world’s knowledge is held in a quasi-public square owned by a private company that could soon go out of business?

Twitter may have lost more than a million users since Elon Musk took over

Estimates from Bot Sentinel suggest that more than 875,000 users deactivated their accounts between October 27 and November 1, while half a million more were suspended.

Former Twitter employees fear the platform might only last weeks

An ultimatum by Elon Musk demanding "extremely hardcore" working culture appears to have backfired. Insiders fear this could spell the end without drastic changes.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.