In June 2017, the European Union fined Google a record-breaking €2.42 billion for abusing the dominance of its popular search engine while building its online shopping service. Brussels found that Google illegally and artificially endorsed its own price-comparison service in searches. (In plain English, Google’s search results were biased in favor of its own services.) Consequently, consumers were denied genuine choices, and rival firms the ability to compete on a level playing field. Google is appealing this ruling.
When Americans hear about this sort of antitrust action overseas, they wonder why there is no corresponding U.S. crackdown. Why aren’t American trust busters going after giant corporations with market dominance such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook? The answer is complicated, and reflects a shift in American antitrust priorities.
The principal weapon available to federal antitrust authorities is the Sherman Act (1890). Section One prohibits all contracts, combinations, or conspiracies in the restraint of trade. Section Two prohibits monopolies and attempts to monopolize. Because of the broad language, the courts have limited the first section to agreements that “unreasonably” restrain trade, and the second to “unreasonable” exclusionary behavior.
The Sherman Act was introduced by Republicans as a response...