Steve Jobs’s e-mails played an integral role in the Apple/book-publisher antitrust suit. Mr. Jobs had passed away two years earlier, but those e-mails were the damning evidence for the government’s antitrust case. Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and Mark Zuckerberg all appeared saintly in their testimony before a House committee. “What? Me engage in anticompetitive behavior? Nay, nay!” But, the e-mails the House staff uncovered and used during the testimony of the tech titans paint a different picture. Mark Zuckerberg was surely putting the pressure on Instagram for an acquisition. Here is an excerpt used by the House staff to make the case that sure look like the words of a monopolist:
“One way of looking at this is that what we’re really buying is time. Even if some new competitors springs up, buying Instagram, Path, Foursquare, etc now will give us a year or more to integrate their dynamics before anyone can get close to their scale again. Within that time, if we incorporate the social mechanics they were using, those new products won’t get much traction since we’ll already have their mechanics deployed at scale.”
Forty-five minutes later, a repentent Zuckerberg sent a sort of retraction:
“I didn’t mean to imply that we’d be buying them to prevent them from competing with us in any way.”
Those who were his targets referred to Zuckerberg’s acquisition strategy as “Copy, acquire, and kill.” The giants threaten the startups with a plan to mimic them unless they agree to be acquired. Instagram gave it up for a billion bucks. Mr. Zuckerberg said that he was really “buying time.” He would get “a year or more to integrate their dynamics before anyone can get close to their scale again.” Hmmm — those on not the words of a formidable competitor. Those are the words of a giant whose day has passed. Devoid of ideas, and rich in cash, you take them before they come up with anything else that is clever. The old question in antitrust was once, ‘Did you get ahead because you built a better mousetrap or did you just squelch the little guys who were in the process of doing so? The e-mails always tell the truth. The hearings are feigned humility under oath.