I’ll bet Big Tech won’t be broken up

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on Wednesday commented on a report released Tuesday by the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, which found Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google hold monopoly power.

“I’ll bet money that they will not be broken up,” Ballmer said.

Ballmer, who helmed Microsoft through an antitrust lawsuit in the early 2000s, made some recommendations to those companies during CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday.

“If I’m in these guys’ shoes, I say, come on, let’s get down there and let’s regulate me and let’s get it over with so I know what I can do.”

Referring to Microsoft’s antitrust legal challenges over twenty years ago, Ballmer said, “Certainly what I learned as we were going through our antitrust issues in the early 2000s is that you can do things that seem 100% consistent with the law all along the way but then if you wind up with a position that somebody deems a monopoly, life gets kind of crazy.”

“I would certainly recommend to all these tech companies to engage on the issues now, to engage with the regulators now,” said Ballmer. “I do not think they can just take unilateral action and expect it to satisfy whatever it is some regulator or Congressman will decide they should have done. The key is to engage.”

A judge ruled in 2000 that Microsoft violated antitrust laws by attempting to monopolize the web browser market by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, which the Department of Justice said gave Microsoft’s browser an advantage over competitors such as Netscape Navigator and Opera. Microsoft appealed that ruling and settled with the DOJ in 2001.

“I also don’t think the case of Apple is the same as Google is the same as Amazon,” said Ballmer. “In a sense putting them all together makes good theater but it doesn’t necessarily mean good policy.” 

Though Ballmer said he was willing to “bet money” Big Tech won’t be broken up, he added, “That doesn’t mean, as in our case, somebody won’t order them broken up before that gets pulled back” — referring to how Microsoft was ordered to split in half before it successfully settled with the Department of Justice.

“Will acquisitions be looked at differently? Yeah, I believe that may happen,” said Ballmer. The House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust looked into whether Facebook bought Instagram to eliminate a competitor as part of a larger concern over anti-competitive “killer acquisitions.” 

“But really forced to spin things out? As I read the concerns — just me as a non-antitrust lawyer reader — I read the concerns and I don’t even think this notion of breaking them up answers most of the questions that people are raising, or many of the complaints they’re raising,” said Ballmer. 

Now that the House Judiciary committee has released its report, lawmakers will need to turn their attention to updating antitrust laws for the Big Tech era.

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