IIPP launches Big Tech disclosures recommendations
13 December 2021
Following a year-long investigation, UCL’s IIPP launches financial and operating disclosure recommendations for Big Tech companies Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook (Meta Platforms) and Microsoft.
A new Omidyar funded report by UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose recommends enhanced 10-K reporting requirements for the largest global technology companies, helping level the playing field for regulators, public investors, and potential competitors across the world.
Antitrust investigations have been hobbled by a lack of detailed disclosures by Big Tech on their operating activities in the annual public 10-K reports which they file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – the primary financial markets regulator. As a result, the public relies on whistle-blowers and court cases to piece together information on Big Tech’s increasingly diversified platform business model.
The report shows how present 10-K disclosure rules help the Big Tech companies conceal market power, increase profit margins, and expand platform dominance.
- Alphabet has at least nine products, each with more than a billion active monthly users and dominant global market shares, but a few 10-K disclosure requirements since they are provided 'free' to the consumer.
- To extend its lead in cloud computing, Amazon may have intentionally withheld disclosing Amazon Web Services' (AWS) stand-alone product financials from its public 10-K report for longer than permitted by segment disclosure rules.
- Apple relied on segment disclosure rules in its trial against Epic Games to claim that the profit margin of its App Store did not exist, potentially withholding a key piece of damning evidence on its anti-competitive conduct.
To prevent such abuses of market power and disclosure manipulation, the report advances mandatory public 10-K reporting on platform user operating metrics and enhanced disaggregation of company financials by product segment:
- Mandatory 10-K reporting of user operating metrics for products with a minimum of monthly active end users and business users (platform 'gatekeeper' provisions).
- Detailed stand-alone segment financials in the 10-K report on any product with $5 billion or more in annual revenues or profits/losses.
- Establishing a ‘tech’ specific SEC disclosures framework focused on digital platforms, in-line with the growing ubiquity and market dominance of the digital platform business model.
Prof. Mariana Mazzucato, Director of UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), and one of the paper’s authors highlights:
"In the same way that the battle against climate change requires carbon reporting, making digital platforms more functional and less extractive requires a new type of reporting which competition policy makers can use to steer platforms towards value creation rather than value extraction.”
Notes Tim O’Reilly, Silicon Valley Entrepreneur and co-author of the report:
"Understanding how Big Tech companies indirectly monetize their users is the starting point for better regulation. Standard disclosure rules based solely on revenue and profit completely miss the way that some of the largest and most influential companies in the world use free products to dominate markets and extract extraordinary profits.
Lead author and IIPP Research Associate, Ilan Strauss also explains:
"Given how large and diversified these digital platform companies have become, regulators require modernized 10-K disclosures to understand how exactly Big Tech make their money. We need updated 10-K data filings which report key company financials disaggregated by major product line, and provide operating metrics on monthly active users and other relevant ‘monetizable’ assets."
This report is a collaboration between IIPP economists Ilan Strauss, Mariana Mazzucato, Josh Ryan-Collins and Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Big Tech reformer Tim O’Reilly, supported by a grant from the Omidyar Network.
For further information or queries, please contact Dr. Ilan Strauss.
- Read the full report here
- Read more about this story here
- 'Big Tech is playing a financial shell game'
- Learn more about IIPP's work on digital technology and artificial intelligence