Trust-busting isn't enough. Consumer choice is the key.

The anti-Big Tech sentiment is growing.

Populist politicians on both the left and right, from Elizabeth Warren to Josh Hawley, to the EU have called for a crackdown on tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

The claim - that these companies have become monopolies that stifle competition, exploit consumer data, and wield outsized influence over our economy and public discourse.

And honestly, they're not wrong. The grip is real, and it should frighten anyone concerned with freedom, choice and independent thought.

The prevailing wisdom is that we need aggressive government intervention to reign in Big Tech - that only muscular antitrust enforcement can level the playing field and protect consumers. But while the underlying concerns about these companies' power are valid, the regulatory remedies being proposed are misguided.

Fact: an antitrust crusade against the tech industry will backfire and create more problems than it solves.

History has shown that overzealous trust-busting often does more harm than good. In the early 20th century, the government used antitrust law to go after successful and innovative companies, from Standard Oil to Alcoa. Rather than increasing competition, many of these cases had the opposite effect, entrenching incumbents and deterring the kind of bold entrepreneurship that drives economic progress.

Today's tech giants are not like the railroad and oil monopolies of old. Google and Facebook don't charge consumers money for their services. Amazon has driven down retail prices and revolutionised e-commerce and logistics to the benefit of shoppers. Apple's ecosystem of devices and software has empowered creators and enabled amazing apps and experiences.

There are legitimate issues with these companies' practices around data privacy, content moderation, and treatment of employees and suppliers. But a heavy-handed breakup of Big Tech won't address those problems effectively. Forcing the spin-off of Instagram from Facebook, YouTube from Google, or AWS from Amazon is more likely to destroy value than create it.

Classical antitrust doctrine, based on consumer welfare and prices, is ill-equipped to deal with the dynamics of the modern tech industry. Many of the harms attributed to Big Tech, from digital addiction to political polarisation, don't fit neatly into traditional economic models. We need a more holistic framework for evaluating and governing the tech sector.

Politicians need to resist the urge to score populist points by bashing Big Tech. Regulators must avoid the temptation to stretch antitrust law beyond recognition in pursuit of tech giants. Rulemaking should be narrowly tailored to address specific harms, developed in consultation with technical experts, and designed with the knowledge that prediction is hard, especially about the future. Kneecapping American tech companies won't make our economy more competitive or innovative.

But just because antitrust is the wrong tool doesn't mean there isn't a problem. Even if it's not illegal, the consolidated power of Big Tech is cause for deep, deep concern. A small handful of corporations, controlled by a few billionaires, have an unprecedented degree of influence over the information we consume, the products and services we use, and the fabric of our society. That concentration of power in private hands is fundamentally at odds with democracy.

As a society, we've become overly dependent on Big Tech. Too many of us have mindlessly adopted the convenient digital tools and services pushed out by Silicon Valley, without considering the consequences. We've been seduced by free products and one-click ordering, ignoring the hidden costs to our autonomy, mental health, and the vibrancy of our communities.

Each one of us has a responsibility to make more intentional and ethical choices about the technologies we use. Instead of just going with the flow and flocking to the dominant platforms, we should seek out and support alternative products and services that better align with our values. Vote with your feet and your wallet.

Look for social networks that respect your privacy, give you control over your data and the user experience, and foster healthier modes of interaction. Prioritize retailers that invest in their local communities, treat workers fairly, and compete on customer service, not just scale and price. Value gadgets that are open, interoperable, and built to last. Split your tools across ecosystems. If you use a mac, go against the grain and use an Android phone. Don't allow your life to be comfortably numbed by one corporation.

When millions of consumers start migrating away from Big Tech's services, policymakers and the industry will take notice. If Facebook usage flatlines and Amazon sales growth stalls, their stock prices will slide and they'll be forced to shape up. Shifting digital habits, not heavy-handed regulations, are what will ultimately curb the excesses of these corporate juggernauts.

This is not to say that government has no role to play. Policymakers should focus on setting fair rules of the road and empowering consumers, not micromanaging how the tech industry operates. We need strong federal data privacy legislation, along the lines of Europe's GDPR, to give users more control over their personal information. We need robust funding for public media, education, and civic tech initiatives to create alternatives to profit-driven platforms. And we need a more competitive and open ecosystem, so that users can easily switch between services and up-and-coming innovators have room to grow.

Healthy competition is vital for both economic dynamism and individual liberty. When a market is dominated by a few giant incumbents, it loses the vibrancy and resilience that comes from many firms experimenting to serve consumers' needs. And when people feel locked into a particular company's products, they lose the autonomy to vote with their feet.

Just because a company has achieved massive scale by creating immense value doesn't necessarily mean it should be penalised. Many of the benefits we derive from digital technology, like real-time traffic data or global video calling, require providers to operate at vast scale. We must be precise in distinguishing between Big Tech's virtuous cycles and vicious ones.

Fundamentally, the Big Tech backlash is an opportunity to have a societal conversation about what we want from the digital tools that are reshaping our world. Do we want algorithms tuned to maximise "engagement" or human flourishing? Do we want devices and software that make our lives more convenient or more meaningful? Should a few for-profit companies have so much sway over our attention and social fabric?

We shouldn't expect antitrust or any top-down solution to answer these questions for us. Grappling with the impact of technology is an ongoing process that requires active participation from all of us as citizens, not just the wisdom of policymakers or the benevolence of tech CEOs. The real work is for each of us to be more intentional in our individual choices and more engaged in shaping the collective norms and rules that govern innovation.

Recently, DHH (37Signals/Basecamp) made waves by announcing his switch from Apple's iPhone to an Android device, citing his support for interoperability and open standards. He argues that consumers have the power to influence the direction of the industry by voting with their wallets and opting for platforms and services that prioritise openness, compatibility, and user control. I find myself agreeing with his stance.

Now more than ever, we have to exercise our consumer choice. There is a growing need for individuals to be intentional about the technologies they adopt. These decisions collectively shape the future of the digital ecosystem. Users can still reclaim their agency and support companies that align with their values, or spread their financial support across an industry, rather than relying solely on regulatory interventions to address Big Tech's dominance.

Yes, hold Big Tech accountable - but through the power of conscientious consumerism, not clumsy, and over reaching regulation. It's on us to reclaim agency over our digital lives. By voting with our feet and our voices, we can curb corporate excesses and build a healthier technological future. We have more power than we realise, if we commit wielding it with purpose.

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