How Big Tech gains and keeps dominance

Four Big Tech firms have gone from scrappy start-ups to powerful monopolies not seen since the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.

That’s according to a damning report from a U.S. House antitrust panel.

[Subcommittee chairman David Cicilline, saying:] “These corporations already stood out as titans in our economy. In the wake of COVID-19, however, they're likely to emerge stronger and more powerful than ever before."

Here are the highlights from the report, detailing how they amassed huge market power, and what some lawmakers say needs to be done about it.

Apple’s issue lies in that it is the gatekeeper of what software consumers can put on iPhones -- that is, apps made by third parties.

Most iPhone users get their apps from Apple's App Store.

That allows Apple to overcharge developers, according to the panel ... exclude rivals ... and misuse developer data to create competing services and features.

The fix?

Stop Apple competing in markets where Apple's competitors must rely on the App Store to reach consumers.

Details were scant but, in theory, it could mean Apple would have to exit from streaming music and television, for example.

Facebook was alleged to be guilty of cutthroat competition by copying, acquiring or killing up-and-coming rivals - such as WhatsApp and Instagram.

The report stopped short of recommending a breakup of Facebook.

Instead it proposed empowering antitrust enforcers and regulators investigating Facebook’s practices.

Google was alleged to use overly restrictive customer and partner contracts.

For instance, CEO Sundar Pichai approved stiff-arming partners to make sure Google search was “front and center” on mobile devices.

And when one hardware manufacturer complained that Google was overloading the manufacturer's devices with mandatory Google software apps, the tech giant blamed the hardware manufacturer for not making gadgets with more memory.

The committee called for laws requiring big service providers, such as Google, to provide fair access to their systems.

That could give a leg up to device makers and developers that want to shift away from Google tools.

Finally, there’s Amazon’s alleged monopoly power over the merchants that sell their stuff through Amazon.

This is a "conflict of interest" according to the report: The merchants don't have a viable alternative to Amazon.

Amazon, meanwhile, has an incentive to use data from competing merchants, to the advantage Amazon's own goods and services.

The report recommended barring Amazon from competition with others who depend on Amazon's infrastructure.

Amazon was the only company that responded to a request for comment, challenging allegations of dominance by saying it represents less than 4% of U.S. retail.