“Who the hell will let a company track you online,” she recalled. “They could only do it because they had the monopoly power to do something that was clearly against the interests of consumers.”
After leaving the advertising world in 2017, she researched and wrote an article the next year about why Facebook was a monopoly. When she finished, she submitted her work to the websites of about a dozen legal reviews. To her surprise, the Berkeley Business Law Journal, affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley’s Law School, agreed to publish her work. Ms. Srinivasan said she cried on the news.
Her Facebook article quickly caught the attention of regulators. In March 2019, a month after its release, Representative David Cicilline, Democratic chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to investigate Facebook on antitrust concerns and among other things to quote their paper. The New York attorney general later asked her to speak to her lawyers about her work.
That year, her article on the Stanford Technology Law Review targeted the other giant in the online advertising world: Google. She explained the complex world of online ad exchange, where display ads are sold and bought in milliseconds. Ms. Srinivasan argued that Google dominates almost every facet of these markets, representing buyers and sellers, while operating the largest exchange.
While other electronic trading markets – namely the financial markets – are heavily regulated to avoid conflicts of interest and unfair advantages of speed and inside information, online advertising trading is largely unregulated. She argued that Google’s dominance increased the price of ads – a concept that was referred to as a “monopoly tax” in several states in the Texas lawsuit.
Marshall Steinbaum, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Utah, wrote on Twitter that Ms. Srinivasan’s articles on Google and Facebook had a greater impact on the recently filed cartel cases than any other research into these companies or technologies in general focused economists on competition policy.
“Your papers are only very clearly tailored to the actual behavior of the platforms and their competitive importance,” said Steinbaum. “They’re helpful to enforcers and come from the perspective of someone who obviously knows the industry and the facts.”