REPORT: “Digital Trade” Doublespeak: Big Tech’s Hijack of Trade Lingo to Attack Anti-Monopoly and Competition Policies

A New Analysis of the Annual U.S. Trade Barriers Report Finds Industry Misappropriating Trade Claims to Attack Other Nations’ Competition Policies, Including Some Pending Here


As digital mega-platforms have continued to grow in size and expand their influence over every aspect of peoples’ public and private lives, U.S. policymakers and those worldwide have begun wrestling with thorny questions of digital governance. Regulatory efforts span from data privacy and security to artificial intelligence transparency and accountability to labor rights for gig workers, but there is one area where Big Tech is fighting tooth and nail: policies targeting their monopoly power and promoting fair competition. Predatory behavior and lax antitrust enforcement,1 along with network effects and “winner-takes-all” dynamics in digital markets, have led to monopolies in the digital services that the vast majority of people use daily.

After years of abuses, and advocacy from smaller businesses, consumers, and workers in response, policymakers worldwide have begun introducing policies to rein in Big Tech’s dominance over the digital economy. Some of the most common measures aim at increasing competition by establishing strict rules for app store operators’ duopoly; forbidding certain anticompetitive practices from digital “gatekeepers;” addressing the power imbalance between media outlets and the mega-platforms that currently determine what kind of content ends up reaching the public; and stopping anticompetitive behavior before it happens.

Big Tech is employing all tactics to fight against these efforts. Digital firms have deployed thousands of lobbyists to sway legislators and regulators. Industry groups and the organizations and academics they fund circulate throughout every major policy center repeating Big Tech’s talking points against new regulations. Executives and former lobbyists of these companies cycle back and forth between these firms and government positions, using the revolving door to try to maintain lax privacy standards, to attack antimonopoly initiatives in other countries, and to counter limitations on data mobility through international negotiations.

However, an under-the-radar strategy has also emerged. Big Tech has begun to co-opt trade negotiating venues worldwide and hijack international trade law jargon to use trade enforcement mechanisms to attack other countries’ policies that constrain digital platforms’ monopolistic size and anticompetitive behavior.

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