Major digital platforms are coming under increasing scrutiny by regulators, stakeholders, and the general public worldwide over their burgeoning market power and trade practices. Since 2019, virtually every top platform has been investigated, charged, or fined. In just the past few months, among other actions, Italian regulators levied a €1.1 billion fine against Amazon for antitrust practices, the EU upheld its €2.4 billion antitrust fine against Google, and a US Senate panel has advanced a bill prohibiting the major tech platforms from favoring their own products and services. And the pace shows no sign of abating.
The disenchantment underlying this scrutiny is swelling on all sides. Lawsuits by software app developers are on the rise, as is the public’s growing unease over privacy protections. These concerns, moreover, are not restricted to Big Tech: a Pew Research Center study found that 81% of Americans feel they have “very little to no control” over the data that companies collect about them and that the potential risks from companies’ data collection practices outweigh the benefits. As debate escalates among regulators, legislators, and academics about the fairest course of action, one point becomes increasingly clear: traditional regulatory remedies are insufficient for tackling these issues.
Digital platforms are a different animal than traditional corporate structures. So, as we examine their market power and practices, rather than rely solely on a traditional antitrust perspective, it might be constructive to view them through an additional lens: the lens of trust. Here we present a picture of the growing problems digital platforms face, highlighting both the reasons they elude traditional regulatory schemes and the traits that enable them to gain unfair advantage over their stakeholders. We explore the problem of antitrust through the lens of trust—and consider the implications such a perspective has for the companies, their stakeholders, and regulators.