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The Week in Tech: Huge Fines Can’t Hide America’s Lack of a Data Privacy Law


And on Wednesday, the same day the F.T.C. announced its $5 billion fine of Facebook, the company also disclosed that it was the target of an antitrust investigation by the F.T.C.

But before we get carried away, I thought now would be a good moment to revisit what not to expect from all this:

■ Forget broad change. All the companies have multiple fronts on which antitrust battles could be waged, and the Justice Department will now have to zero in on issues it thinks can be fought against and won.

■ Court cases aren’t guaranteed. The department will typically only take to court cases it’s confident it can win, so investigations could yet fizzle out. And big tech has plenty of legal firepower, so the bar is high.

■ Punishments may disappoint. Remedies to antitrust violations are tailored to the harm. So if you’re craving a breakup, that might only happen for a very specific wrongdoing — and then only if it is a focus, makes the courts, and is ruled to be a problem.

The most valuable tech company in the world isn’t Apple. Or Amazon or Google or Facebook. With a $1.06 trillion market cap, it’s good old Microsoft. But cast your mind back to last week when big tech was hauled in front of Congress. Who wasn’t there? Microsoft.

It must be doing something very right to be that valuable while dodging the bullets its peers attract. So I asked some folks about how they thought it was managing to avoid backlash:

It may have learned from its antitrust battles in the 1990s. “Everything Microsoft went through during the antitrust era shaped the company,” said Ed Anderson, a distinguished research vice president at Gartner. “It’s more collaborative, less aggressive, less predatory.”

“No one is challenging Microsoft’s position on the PC desktop, where it still has a monopoly, so there is no one that Microsoft needs to try to exclude,” wrote Harry First, an antitrust law professor at New York University, in an email. “All Microsoft is doing now is raking in the profits on Windows.” (It also plays second fiddle to Amazon in cloud computing, one of its biggest growth areas.)

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