BCG Henderson Institute

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This research was published on August 18th, 2021 in Fortune

The power of the biggest tech companies has grown too ubiquitous to ignore — their dominance can be felt in the stock indexes, in segments of the labor market, and in the oversight (or lack thereof) of public discourse, to name just a few areas of influence. Little surprise, then, that the political script appears to be at a turning point: Regulatory agencies, now staffed with vocal critics of the industry, are accelerating the pursuit, with Facebook and Google squarely in the crosshairs of antitrust litigation.

Yet predicting Big Tech’s comeuppance could be a losing bet. The path from corporate power to regulatory backlash is neither linear nor predominantly about economics. What’s overlooked in today’s debate is the catalyzing power of popular outrage. The presence of such anger has reliably aligned political will and driven regulatory pushback in the past — and its absence has slowed or prevented such pushback.

To see why the political economy of outrage will likely shape Big Tech’s regulatory fate, a brief tour of U.S. history is a good starting point.