Congress’s lawmakers are targeting tech giants at monopoly problems – and the proposed legislation could force them to revise or even break their increasingly dominant business empires.
The five-cartel package introduced by a two-party congressional group on Friday – targeting Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google’s parent company Alphabet – would make it harder for major tech platforms to complete mergers and prevent them from owning companies that creates conflicts of interest.
Two of the new bills can be particularly difficult for Amazon and Apple to navigate, as they both run marketplaces that include their own products or apps that compete with external vendors that depend on their services.
Called the “Ending Platform Monopolies Act”
The second bill introduced by Rep. Cicilline, would reduce the ability of large technology companies to use their platforms to promote their own products ahead of the competition – a rule that could slam Apple and Google’s Android software over their app store policies and Amazon over its massive third-party market.
“Unregulated technological monopolies have too much power over our economy,” Cicilline said. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise consumer prices and put people out of work. Our agenda will create a level playing field. ”
Rep. Ken Buck (R. – Colo.), The top Republican on the antitrust panel, the legislation “breaks Big Tech’s monopoly power to control what Americans see and say online, and promotes an online market that encourages innovation.”
The other three bills aim to curb mergers that giants in Silicon Valley have used to grow and neutralize competition. “The Platform Competition and Opportunity Act” led by rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), would ban large online gamblers from buying competitive threats, while “The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act” led by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Co) wanted to give law enforcement agencies power and resources by demanding higher fees for mergers worth $ 1 billion. $ and more.
Meanwhile, the “Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act” is led by rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa) intended to increase competition by forcing companies to allow consumers to switch data between platforms.
The Judiciary Committee must vote on the bills before going to Parliament for approval and then the Senate. Only then can the bills be signed into law by the president.
The bipartisan support for the package is bad news for the tech titans, who are believed to have too much power over the industry.
The technology giants did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday, but reports that the bills were coming had already spurred feedback.
“Adopting the European regulatory model would make it harder for U.S. technology companies to innovate and compete both here and globally,” Geoffrey Manne, president and founder of the International Center for Law & Economics, told CNBC, adding that the group has received funding from Google earlier.
In a Medium post published earlier this week, Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the Chamber of Progress, a group of lawyers backed by the five technology giants, claimed that consumers would miss out on “amenities” like Amazon Prime free shipping and cross-posting between Facebook and Instagram under these suggestions.
“With all the challenges our country faces – pandemic recovery, crumbling infrastructure, racial balance and climate change – it’s a little strange that some politicians think our biggest problem worth fixing is … Amazon Basics’ batteries,” he wrote. Kovacevich.
The antitrust reforms follow a 16-month inquiry conducted by the Judiciary Subcommittee on antitrust issues into the four technology giants, which was completed last year.
At the time, the study’s 450-page report found that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have monopoly power, and that monopoly rules should be revised to better handle today’s digital media landscape. The report said major changes for large technology companies may have to trigger or separate parts of their business or make it harder for them to buy smaller companies.
While Democrats and Republicans disagree on some of the solutions, they have found common ground in the alleged cartel issues and agree that the reform was necessary to trigger competition.
Amazon has captured flakes from lawmakers for allegedly using data from third-party companies to develop and promote Amazon-branded products like “Amazon Basics.”
Amazon’s private label represents a significant part of the technology giant’s business with 158,000 products from dozens of different brands, according to the report.
The company also has significant business lines in everything from streaming entertainment through Prime Video and e-readers via Kindle to voice-activated assistants through Echo and doorbell cameras via Ring. Liquidating the various subsidiaries would probably be a long and costly process.
The Ending Platform Monopolies Act is being floated as a technological world equivalent to the 1933 Milestone Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banking, according to the Journal.
The potential legislative battle comes less than a month before Jeff Bezos resigns as CEO of Amazon in July, handing over the reins to web services chief Andy Jassy and then blasting himself into space on a Blue Origin rocket shortly thereafter.
The United States is not the only country where Jassy is expected to struggle with regulators.
On Thursday, the journal reported that an EU privacy regulator has proposed a $ 425 million fine over Amazon’s data collection practices. The fine would be the largest to date under a strict data protection law adopted by the EU in 2018.