Antitrust investigations launched in recent days by some US states against Google and Facebook, also in the viewfinder of European authorities, recall the ultra-dominant position of the digital giants in many markets, and rest the question of their eventual dismantling.
- What do we blame for the digital giants?
Protection of personal data, influence on the advertising market, online research or social networks, dominant position on online commerce or control of the smartphone app market ... The grievances against the digital giants are to the basis of many investigations, both on the American side and on the part of the European Commission.
In the online advertising market, Google and Facebook control nearly 60% of the US market, estimated at 129 billion dollars for 2019, and more than half of the global market, which was to rise to 333 billion dollars, according to the eMarketer design office.
Google is also criticized for the search online: globally, 92.4% of online queries are passed by him in August.
Similar influence on the smartphone market: Android (Google) and iOS (Apple) are the operating systems currently present on almost all devices, with the products of the two giants proposed by default (Internet browsers, cartography) and a control total on application stores (PlayStore or AppStore).
With Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, the Facebook group has for its part carved out a largely dominant position on the social media market in many countries.
- Is dismantling possible? -
For these major groups, an antitrust investigation in the United States carries with it the theoretical risk of dismantling, as provided by an American legislative arsenal that was created in 1890.
There are striking precedents: in 1911, the break-up of Standard Oil, the empire of John Rockefeller, led to the creation of Chevron, Mobil, Exxon or Amoco.
But nothing similar so far in the computer or digital field. An investigation launched in 1969 against IBM was finally abandoned 13 years later, the revolution of the microcomputer having ended the monopoly of the group on computers. Microsoft has been accused of dominance over its Windows system, but an agreement with the US Department of Justice has put an end to the lawsuits.
"In physical activities, it is very simple to dismantle, but when it comes to software, the borders are variable, the limits are eminently unclear, not to mention the risk that this implies in terms of potential for innovation", says the consultant specialized Olivier Ezratty.
- What alternative to dismantling?
Some US officials, such as Democrat and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, are calling for outright dismantling of tech giants. Just like some American think tanks. For example, the Open Markets Institute, one of whose members, Matt Stoller, writes Tuesday in the English daily Guardian that it is necessary to "dismantle" the digital juggernauts "otherwise they will become our government and will eventually choose what we see and know the world ".
Other commentators, and the giants of the web themselves, defend less radical solutions. The founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, whose company goes from scandal to controversy, has made himself in recent months a champion of the strengthening of regulation in digital.
At European level, the European Data Protection Regulation (RGPD), which came into force in May 2018, is supposed to provide a strong regulatory framework.
And the pressure in Europe on the Gafa is not about to fall because the Danish Margrethe Vestager, who has made a name for herself by facing the giants of Silicon Valley - no less than three fines for abuse of dominant position against Google to its assets - remains commissioner in charge of the Competition in the new European executive, whose composition was unveiled Tuesday.
© 2019 AFP