How Should Big Tech Be Reined In? Here Are 4 Prominent Ideas

The new regulator was the central recommendation of a recent report about the digital platforms that was sponsored by the Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State at the University of Chicago. Ms. Scott Morton led a group of eight antitrust experts and technologists who worked on the study. Since the report was released in May, members of the group have made a series of presentations to policymakers.

In online markets, the flywheel of network effects — the more people who use a service, the more users, developers and advertisers it attracts — is especially powerful, creating dominant companies. Yet even in digital markets, the door to new entrants must remain open, said Ms. Scott Morton, a former senior official in the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

In traditional antitrust, regulators and courts move at a measured pace, slowly and often after the fact. The goal of a new digital regulator, she said, “would be to save the rival before it is killed.”

The authority, Ms. Scott Morton said, could receive a complaint from a competitor and schedule a hearing two weeks later, when both sides would present testimony.

A new regulator? It would be a tough sell in today’s political environment. But we do have specialist federal regulators in many other industries, including banking, aviation, transportation, drugs and agriculture.

Reining in the big tech companies, Ms. Scott Morton said, is increasingly becoming a bipartisan concern. “At some point, society will say this is too much power without real oversight,” she said.

There are also narrower, targeted regulatory proposals. Some of these involve rules that would loosen a dominant company’s control of user data, by either forcing that company to share the data with a smaller competitor or giving users more ability to take their data from one service and move it to a competitor. The Stigler Center study cited those data moves in a list of potential regulations and enforcement actions.