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The Antitrust Case Against Big Tech, Shaped by Tech Industry Exiles

“Who the heck consents to having a company track them across the internet,” she remembered thinking. “They could only do it because they had monopoly power to do something that clearly goes against consumer interests.”

After leaving the ad world in 2017, she spent the next year researching and writing a paper on why Facebook was a monopoly. When she was done, she submitted her paper to the websites of about a dozen law reviews. To her surprise, the Berkeley Business Law Journal, which is associated with the University of California, Berkeley’s law school, agreed to publish her work. Ms. Srinivasan said she cried at the news.

Her Facebook paper quickly captured the attention of regulators. In March 2019, a month after it was published, Representative David Cicilline, the Democratic chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee, wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission urging the agency to investigate Facebook on antitrust grounds citing her paper among other works. The New York attorney general’s office later asked her to speak to its lawyers about her work.

This year, she took aim with her Stanford Technology Law Review article at the other behemoth of the online ad world: Google. She explained the complex world of online ad exchanges, where display ads are sold and bought in milliseconds. Ms. Srinivasan argued that Google dominates nearly all facets of these markets, representing buyers and sellers while also operating the largest exchange.

While other electronic trading markets — namely, financial markets — are heavily regulated to prevent conflicts of interest and unfair advantages of speed and inside information, online ad trading is largely unregulated. She argued that Google’s dominance inflated the price of ads — a concept described as a “monopoly tax” in the multistate lawsuit led by Texas.

Marshall Steinbaum, an assistant professor at the University of Utah’s economics department, wrote on Twitter that Ms. Srinivasan’s articles on Google and Facebook had a greater influence on the recently filed antitrust cases than all the other research about those companies or tech in general by traditional economists focused on competition policy.

“Her papers are just very clearly on point about the actual conduct of the platforms and its competitive significance,” Mr. Steinbaum said. “They’re helpful to enforcers and come from a perspective of someone who obviously knows the industry and the facts.”