The proposals, a bipartisan group in the US House, target the strengths of Big Tech with a broad antitrust agenda.
US lawmakers on Friday unveiled a broad antitrust agenda aimed at reining in the competitive power of giants such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The five bipartisan bills, the result of more than a year of probing competition in digital marketplaces, target what lawmakers call a “defense of unregulated power” by Big Tech.
The bills are aimed at four tech giants, who collectively affect nearly every aspect of online life, as well as the broader industry. If eventually passed into law, the bill would make it easier for the government to break up major companies and prevent them from undercutting competition through preemptive takeovers.
Chisilin, a Rhode Island Democrat and chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, said the slate of bills would “level the playing field” and ensure tech companies were held to the same rules.
“Right now, unregulated technological monopolies have too much authority over our economy,” Sicilene said in a press release. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, put prices on consumers, and put people out of work.”
Facebook and Google declined to comment. Apple and Amazon did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The enormous market power of these companies, which represent more than $6 trillion in market value, has confused the fundamentals that guided antitrust law in the US for a generation. Lawmakers have become more concerned with the behavior of the industry and have threatened to address it. In July, the CEOs of the four companies were presented before the committee of Sicilian., an unprecedented public inquiry of Big Tech’s most visible leaders.
Supporters of Silicon Valley argue that the scale of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google has provided consumers with unprecedented innovation and wide-ranging technological advantages, often at low cost. Critics of Big Tech say the industry’s extravagant market power hurts workers, stifles smaller rivals and costs consumers money in ways other than money.
The bill on Friday’s legislative agenda, according to lawmakers, will:
- Prevent discrimination by major platforms – such as Apple’s App Store, Google Play Store or Amazon’s all-in-one marketplace – by preventing them from exercising self-preference or “picking winners and losers online”.
- Refuse takeovers designed to suppress competitive threats, or that would expand or expand the online platform’s market power.
- Prevent major platforms from taking advantage of their control across multiple business types to give themselves an unfair advantage and disadvantage competitors.
- Fostering greater online competition by lowering the barriers to entry and lowering costs for businesses and consumers when they want to switch to a new provider.
- Update filing fees for the merger, the first increase in two decades, provide funding for both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to pursue necessary antitrust action.
The bills escalate a fight that has been going on between Silicon Valley and Washington for years.
All four of the tech giants face a major antitrust battle. Google is the target of three major antitrust lawsuits, including a landmark case filed by the US Justice Department and another complaint by a bipartisan coalition of states. Facebook faces lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and a group of state attorneys general. Amazon is sued by a Washington DC attorney to fix the price. Apple and Google have been sued by the maker of the popular game Fortnite for their App Store policies.
Chisilin led the charge in the House. The July hearing was the culmination of a year-long investigation by his subcommittee into the tech giant’s market dominance. During that time, the subcommittee collected more than 1.3 million documents from tech companies, their competitors, and antitrust enforcement agencies. After the hearing, the subcommittee issued a 449-page report accusing the four companies of “abuse of monopoly power”.
The size of the companies is staggering.
Facebook is the largest social network in the world, with a user base roughly equal to that of the world’s two most populous countries – China and India combined. Amazon controls 38% of US online sales, while Walmart, its closest competitor, is just shy of 6%. (Amazon also collects data on other retailers using its massive platform.) Apple’s App Store is a powerful gateway for software developers to find audiences with the company’s vast iPhone and iPad customer base. Google processes about 90% of all web searches globally.
Robert Weisman, president of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said the legislative package is a “huge step” toward holding major tech companies accountable for their abuses of unchecked power. “Big Tech should see what it is: Congress is sending a clear message that the party is finally over for them,” he said in a statement.
The younger contestants applauded the move.
Roku, which is currently at an impasse with Google over a deal to host the YouTube TV app on its streaming device, is called Bill Important steps to stop violent behavior. “Roku has direct experience in competing with and interacting with these monopolies,” the company said in a statement. “We have seen how they exploit and harm consumers by taking advantage of their dominance in one line of business to suppress competition in another line of business.”
Spotify, which has been a vocal critic of Apple’s actions in its App Store, called the proposals “a clear sign that momentum has shifted” after “competitive practices have gone unchecked for too long, undermining competition.” and threatening innovation.”
However, tech industry proponents and representatives warned that the bills could damage US economic leadership in the world and block consumers’ access to free digital services.
“The House bill will put the government in charge of industrial organization,” Matthew Schruers, president of the tech trade group Computer and Communications Industry Association, said in a statement. “They disregard the principles that govern the US market economy and will prevent successful tech companies from providing consumers with products and services that make their lives better.”
A statement earlier in the day by Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican who is the committee’s ranking member, suggested the industry’s position would find little sympathy in Washington.
“Big tech has abused its dominance in the market to crush competitors, censor speech, and control the way we see and understand the world,” Buck said. “Doing nothing is not an option, we must act now.”
— Richard Nieva contributed to this article.