The biggest threat to tech giants in 2024 will be the government — on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Biden Administration spent much of 2023 trying to curtail the market dominance of some of the most influential and deep-pocketed companies in the US, from airlines and healthcare to crypto exchanges.
Big Tech was its most prominent target. The same was also true for governments overseas, as regulators in the United Kingdom and European Union applied new pressure to industry players that sought to boost their market power by purchasing rivals.
Just this month, the resistance from both sides of the Atlantic was enough to persuade Photoshop maker Adobe to give up on plans to acquire web-based design platform Figma and motivate biotech giant Illumina to sell off a cancer-screening company called Grail.
Adobe (ADBE), in pulling the plug on its $20 billion takeover, said there was “no clear path” to approvals from the UK or the EU.
Legal experts say they expect the government offensive to continue raging on both continents in 2024.
“I would actually say the biggest threat to tech businesses is going to be government,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, an technology advocacy organization that also represents Yahoo Finance. “And not just the US government, but governments across the world.”
Starting in March, Alphabet (GOOG, GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Meta (META) and Microsoft (MSFT) must comply with a new EU law, the Digital Services Act, designed to limit their power and face penalties if they don’t comply. That includes fines or a possible company breakup.
In the US, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission this past week published new merger guidelines that made it clear they will seek to limit the concentration of power in key industries.
“For too long, unchecked consolidation has meant big corporations getting bigger, giving them the power to raise prices for Americans and provide consumers with fewer options,” Biden’s national economic advisor Lael Brainard said in a statement.
Former FTC member William Kovacic said there is “no doubt” the administration will continue its legal push in the final year of Biden’s current term.
The question now, he said, is: Can the government prevail against its formidable corporate opponents?
FTC has already been handed some defeats in some prominent antitrust cases, including suits to stop Microsoft’s acquisition of game developer Activision Blizzard and Meta’s acquisition of virtual reality app developer Within.
“These are hard cases,” said Kovacic, who is currently a George Washington University Law School professor.
“And despite the fact that they do have a large number of attorneys and economists in each of these cases, they’re following the most capable opponents they could possibly imagine.”
The pursuit of Google and Amazon
The most prominent development in early 2024 could be the outcome of an antitrust trial putting the Justice Department against Alphabet’s Google, alleging the tech giant illegally monopolizes the online search engine market.
If the DOJ prevails it could strip the company of its dominance in the online search market, threatening a core profit engine that sits at the heart of Google’s trillion-dollar empire.
The judge deciding the case, US District Court Judge Amit Mehta, is expected to issue a decision in March after hearing two months of testimony this past fall.
The Justice Department, in a separate case, is also accusing Google of blocking competition in the online advertising market.
Another high-profile legal battle looms with e-commerce giant Amazon. The FTC and 17 state attorneys general have alleged that Amazon.com is illegally monopolizing two markets: the online superstore market and the online superstore services market.
The case is a big test for FTC Chair Lina Khan, who was appointed by President Joe Biden in 2021, and has made taking on Big Tech the cornerstone of her tenure.
The FTC in a separate suit also claims Amazon knowingly duped millions of consumers into enrolling in its Amazon Prime service.
‘A bad political strategy’
A crackdown on the crypto world will remain a major focus for US regulators in 2024 after some high-profile victories in 2023, including the criminal conviction of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried and a guilty plea from Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao.
Zhao stepped down and Binance agreed to pay a $4.3 billion fine.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is still pursuing a number of the industry’s top players, including Binance and Coinbase, in civil suits.
It experienced courtroom setbacks and victories in 2023, and its ongoing campaign to rein in the industry will likely be a defining event for crypto companies in 2024.
Some in the crypto world are hoping for a new administration that emerges from the 2024 presidential election with a more favorable view of their industry.
“Being anti-crypto is a really bad political strategy going into 2024,” Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said this week on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexiskweed.