Anamitra Deb
Senior Director
&
Gus Rossi
Principal

Why We’re Investing in Curbing the Power of Tech Platforms

August 7, 2019

The Department of Justice recently announced a broad antitrust review of Big Tech companies, including Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook. At the same time, the Federal Trade Commission launched its own investigation into Facebook for antitrust violations. These long overdue investigations will review whether tech platforms reduce competition, stifle innovation, and harm consumers. These investigations are sparking important conversations amongst policymakers, consumers, and the media about the imbalance of power in the tech industry.

But we can’t stop here. We must leverage this momentum to move from public outcry to new rules and regulations to better rein in Big Tech. While we firmly believe that technology can and should be used for good in our society, it is increasingly apparent that we need additional guardrails and more oversight.

That is why we at Omidyar Network have just made three investments to help advance dialogue, education, and action. We believe the urgent need of the hour is to use checks and balances to limit the harms caused by big tech companies, while stimulating innovation, competition, and fairness.

  1. We support Open Markets Institute (OMI), a nonprofit organization working to fight corporate concentration and monopoly power. OMI is normalizing conversations in both the public and Congressional spheres about the harms created by tech giants. Our multi-year grant will help deepen OMI’s work by supporting research, creating policy positions, and enabling advocacy directed at policymakers and regulators working to protect the public and enable market innovation. This platform builds upon the legacy of Lina Khan, OMI’s former director of legal policy, who authored a foundational piece that helped spearhead the so-called “hipster antitrust movement.” This important work helped broaden the focus of antitrust law solely from consumer welfare to include societal impacts like income inequality and unemployment. Additionally, OMI is helping lead conversations on antitrust across industries.
  2. We also invested in Public Knowledge, a nonprofit organization dedicated to shaping policy on behalf of the public interest. For example, the organization led the development of a guidebook on regulating digital platforms. Our grant focuses on supporting Public Knowledge’s expert research and in-depth evidence-gathering on the specific harms produced by tech giants. Our hope is that this will translate into material information to compel regulators and enforcers to act, while leveraging existing law. 
  3. Finally, our investment in the Thurman Arnold Project at Yale University will allow a team led by Dr. Fiona Scott Morton to study competition and antitrust issues in digital marketplaces, develop new theories, and produce specific policy proposals. Dr. Scott Morton is a leading voice calling for greater competition among tech platforms, with notable academic and political credibility. For years, she has been at the forefront of this issue, having assembled a group of economists and legal scholars to examine whether antitrust enforcement is out of date following the 2016 election. We are thrilled to be partnering with the Knight Foundation on this effort as part of its recently announced initiative to build a field of study on technology’s impact on democracy.

We hope these investments will collectively raise awareness of the importance of technology regulation and anti-trust enforcement, provide policymakers with instruments for action, and spur further efforts to put better guardrails in place to check big tech’s power, increase competition, and enable fair and healthy outcomes for consumers.

We join other funders, including the Ford Foundation, Knight Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations, in recognizing the importance of implementing proper regulatory measures that check the power and influence of large tech platforms. In the spirit of Omidyar Network’s founders, Pam and Pierre Omidyar, we remain optimistic about technology’s potential to transform society and advance social good. We will continue our work to create the innovative companies, institutions, and norms to make that possible.

Want to learn more? Check out our perspective in Techonomy: Congress Must Go Further to Rein In Big Tech. You can also read about our support of Open Sourced, a multi-platform, explanatory journalism project from Recode and Vox Media aiming to contextualize the benefits of the tech revolution while better explaining the risks.

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