Year in Review: With Key Hires On Antitrust and Looming Regulation, A Look Back at Big Tech in 2021

Big technology companies faced hurdles in 2021 — and it’s only the beginning of a Biden administration crackdown.

Year in Review: With Key Hires On Antitrust and Looming Regulation, A Look Back at Big Tech in 2021
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

WASHINGTON, December 29, 2021 – While the world scraped through another year of the coronavirus pandemic, Big Tech was unable to escape unscathed, with the biggest names in the game facing potentially sector altering challenges.

With the rise of a number of key antitrust figures, including Amazon critic Lina Khan heading the Federal Trade Commission, Google critic Jonathan Kanter taking a position in the Justice Department’s antitrust division, and Tim Wu appointed to the National Economic Council, the focus on big tech is set for 2022.

That said, our second in a three-part series on a review of 2021 examines what happened to the big technology companies in 2021.

Section 230

At the outset of 2021, then-president Donald Trump was deplatformed by most major social media platforms in the wake of the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol Building. In response, Trump re-ignited the conversation surrounding Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, which shields tech platforms of being legally liable for the content their users post.

Even though it may seem that both conservatives and liberals in Congress can come together against Section 230, the reality is their perspectives could not be more at odds.

Republicans tend to believe social media companies are guilty of using Section 230 to stifle conservative speech – a claim that Twitter’s internal research has refuted, at least on their own platform.

Conversely, Democrats believe that these companies are hiding behind Section 230, shirking responsibility, and refusing to be held accountable for the real-life consequences of hateful and dangerous speech on their platforms.

The Big Tech companies have been accused of using Section 230 as a shield to deflect criticisms of how they choose to or choose not to moderate user content that is posted on their social media platforms.

Because of this ideological disconnect, despite all the rhetoric and chest thumping, the needle has not moved on Section 230 in Congress. There have been precious few alternatives put forward to replace Section 230 and protect the smaller companies that would be impacted by a full repeal.

Those who have lampooned Section 230 naysayers often point out that small companies will inevitably be the most impacted by a repeal of Section 230. While Facebook, Twitter, and Google will have the capital necessary to defend themselves in court and adjust their moderation policies, the reasoning goes, small companies will not, and it will simply be too risky for them to host user created content.

While Big Tech will be able to adapt to change made to Section 230, some argue, everyone else could find themselves pushed further to the margins to mitigate their own risk.


Facebook, recently rebranded as Meta, has spent a lot of time in the doghouse this year.

In 2021, the company navigated whistleblowers, the Oversight Board, Section 230 debates, and more – it was even voted “worst company” in a user poll on Yahoo Finance.

Shortly after Trump’s expulsion from Facebook’s social media platforms, the Oversight Board upheld Facebook’s decision as part of its first round of judgements on January 28. In 2021, Oversight Board would pass down 21 binding judgements to Facebook.

The board was Facebook’s answer to mounting criticisms regarding their content moderation policies; Facebook’s critics argued that their policies appeared intentionally vague, and some called for more independent and transparent “oversight.”

Facebook also experienced a tumultuous conclusion to 2021. In October of 2021, Frances Haugen identified herself as the whistleblower behind what would become known as “The Facebook Files.” Haugen would later testify before Congress, claiming that Facebook was not only aware of how its platforms could negatively impact young people, but also that it was cognizant of the role they played in violence in developing nations.

Facebook rebranded itself as Meta on Oct. 21, after Haugen’s testimony.


Apple found itself at the center of several antitrust and competitive-based issues in 2021.

In Epic Games v. Apple, despite a favorable ruling that did not find Apple to be a monopoly or having had engaged in anti-trust behavior (in nine of ten counts), Apple was found to have to have engaged in anticompetitive practices through its anti-steering policies.

During the case, Epic received support from companies like Spotify and Hinge owner Match Group Inc., saying that they had dealt with similar anticompetitive behavior.

With a market cap of over $600 billion, Apple was also one of only six American firms (alongside Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet Inc., and Facebook) that would be recognized and targeted for additional antitrust bills.

One such bill is H.R. 3816, introduced by Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island. This bill would go so far as to make it illegal for companies to give their own products preferential treatment on their marketplaces.

Among other things, this would likely outlaw the practice of pre-installed applications on phones and other smart devices – a practice that Apple is thoroughly engaged in, steering users to their own proprietary apps while potentially obfuscating alternatives.


Google broke records in 2021, but not all to the company’s benefit. In July of 2021, the Competition Authority of France fined the company nearly $600 million – the largest in the authority’s history – over a failure to negotiate with digital publishers “in good faith” to fairly compensate them for their content, per European Union copyright directives.

Google was also simultaneously sued by 36 states and the District of Columbia over alleged Google Play Store abuses.

In January of 2021, Google squared off with the Australian Government. The case was not dissimilar to the one that would play out in July, whereby France fined the company for $600 million. When faced with legislation that would require Google to compensate content creators for content shared on their engine, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, threatened to shut down the search engine for the island nation.

In September of 2021, Australia struck at Google again, labeling it a monopoly and announcing that it would be taking steps to hamper Google’s ability to sell ads.


Google was not the only company breaking records. In 2021, Amazon passed Walmart as the world’s largest retailer outside of China.

In 2021, Amazon acquired Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for nearly $8.5 billion — nearly its largest acquisition to date, second only to Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion in 2017 — and one of the largest mergers in 2021.

The acquisition was one of the most significant moves made in 2021 as the “Streaming Wars” have only heated up. Despite this, Amazon has largely managed to skirt the antitrust conversations that have swirled around the other companies on this list.

But with Khan as the head of the FTC, Amazon is also looking at possible regulatory issues. In fact, earlier this year, it requested that Khan recuse herself or be recused from all matters related to the company due to past statements she has made.

Much of the criticism Amazon has faced has surrounded knock off products hawked by third-party retailers that maintain a presence on Amazon.
For its part, Amazon mostly denies responsibility for the third-parties it platforms, though H.R. 5502, co-sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D- Illinois, could change that.

“What we’re saying now is very simply that online marketplaces will have to verify that the identity of their higher volume sellers, so they have to take some responsibility,” said Schakowsky during a hearing on the bill in November.

Though the bill was passed in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, it still has a long way to go before being passed into law, as it must still pass the House and Senate.

Popular Tags