Over the past 110 years, only four monopolistic US companies have had antitrust suits brought against them. Antitrust laws protect consumers from predatory business practices and ensure fair competition. Energy behemoth Standard Oil Co was broken up into 34 companies in 1911. The suit against computer giant IBM Corp first filed in 1969 was eventually withdrawn in 1982. Telecom colossus AT&T Inc was splintered into seven “Baby Bells” in 1984. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) sued software powerhouse Microsoft Corp in 1998 only to settle three years later. Last week, search engine Google — one of the five players alongside Amazon.com, Apple Inc, Microsoft and Facebook Inc that have long dominated the global tech sector — was sued by the DOJ for being a big, bad tech giant.

The US government accuses Google of harnessing its role as internet gatekeeper to enrich its vast business empire, stifling competitors and hurting consumers through exclusionary agreements. It alleges that Google spent the profits it made from its powerful position to buy special treatment for its search engine on devices and web browsers, creating a “self-reinforcing cycle” of monopoly power abuse. “If the government does not enforce the antitrust laws to enable competition, we could lose the next wave of innovation,” noted deputy attorney general Jeffrey Rosen. “If that happens, Americans may never get to see the next Google.”

To be sure, being a monopoly is not a crime. Free market economies do not punish companies for being incredibly successful and becoming dominant in their segment. What is illegal, however, is engaging in anti-competitive and exclusionary practices or using their dominant position in the marketplace to stifle competition.

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