The call to “Break Up Big Tech” was initially more pithy slogan than political possibility, but today, its realization seems far more plausible. President Biden, under pressure from workers and tech-accountability activists, appointed a gang of Big Tech critics to the Federal Trade Commission, his circle of advisers, and other positions. So far, they have led aggressive attacks: the FTC has sued Facebook for crushing competition, probed Amazon’s acquisitions of Roomba and One Medical, and forced Amazon to refund over $60 million in customer tips that the company withheld from contract workers. The Department of Justice also filed a lawsuit against Google for anticompetitive behavior, and Biden signed an executive order of 72 actions and recommendations to limit Big Tech’s power.
In 2021, the House Judiciary Committee passed a package of six long-considered bills targeting tech monopolies (namely Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Meta). Among other things, these bills would have restricted the companies’ ability to write the rules of the marketplaces in which they operate and prevented them from acquiring smaller companies to kill competition. The most ambitious proposals would have broken some of these monopolies up.
This package has yet to become law; Big Tech deployed a war chest of lobbying and dark-money dollars, replicating Big Oil and Big Tobacco’s astroturfing playbook of decades past, to prevent the bills’ passage. But their introduction, not to mention the bipartisan support they received, was significant; they advanced further than any other antitrust legislation has in decades. (And even the Senate, where leaders like Chuck Schumer bowed to corporate interests, successfully approved funding to expand antitrust enforcement.)
I worked at Facebook, now part of Meta, during the 2016 presidential election. From the inside, it was clear that structural reforms, like separating YouTube from Google Search or forcing Meta to give up Instagram, would not be sufficient to solve all of Big Tech’s problems. Whistleblowers have consistently proven that tech workers are not only keenly aware of their employers’ most egregious harms, but can also be the architects of and advocates for solutions that would mitigate the destruction caused by these corporations. Who better to govern and lead regulation of Big Tech monopolies than workers themselves?
I left my job at Facebook in 2017 out of both disgust and remorse; now I run campaigns to support workers organizing against Big Tech’s predatory business practices, like union busting, surveillance advertising, and cloud-enabled surveillance technology used by police departments, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Israeli military to terrorize the most vulnerable among us.
When launching Internet.org — an initiative which aimed to increase internet access in the Global South, and which I worked on while at Facebook — Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech asserting that internet access is a human right. This was a transparently bad-faith effort at justifying Facebook’s self-serving, expansionist ambitions. When the project faced pushback from government regulators and activists, Facebook lobbyists made sweetheart deals with Indian telecom companies and trade associations, and marketing contractors spread pro-Facebook propaganda across radio, television, and billboards. I was tasked with helping court Indian tech workers to speak out in Facebook’s favor.
Zuckerberg was right about one thing, however: the services Big Tech monopolies provide should be public goods. Which is why he shouldn’t own and operate internet infrastructure — workers should get to govern it instead.
Jane Chung runs campaigns to build worker power, fight for environmental justice, and dismantle the Big Tech-powered surveillance state.